Apparently, Alain de Botton recently said at a TED.com lecture that he felt there was a problem with meritocracy.
It meant that the best would win, which meant everyone else would lose.
And that wasn’t very nice.
I think it depends on how you hold winning and losing.
Do you hold it as a matter of life and death?
Or do you hold it like sport?
I was explainingto some students recently that the fun in winning was beating people who are better than you are.
Anyone can beat people who are not as good as they are.
The fun is in beating people that you shouldn’t be able to beat.
How do you out-think people like that?
That’s real creativity.
Isn’t the whole point of creativity to stretch yourself so that you do things you wouldn’t otherwise do?
Things that, if you stayed within your comfort zone, you wouldn’t even attempt.
Isn’t the whole point to continually grow and move on?
How are you doing to do that unless you compete?
How are you going to compete unless you’ve got something to compete with?
Maybe you compete against other agencies: you try to win against better competition.
Maybe you compete against the establishment: you try to upset the status quo.
Maybe you compete against your background: where you came from, what people expected of you.
Maybe you compete against yourself: your fear of failure, your laziness, your embarrassment.
Competition doesn’t define and limit the game.
Competition provides the energy for the game.
If you decide to help feed the third world, you compete against starvation.
If you decide to promote better healthcare, you compete against disease, or ignorance, or poverty, or greed.
Maurice Saatchi is often misquoted as having said,” It’s not enough for us to win, someone else has to lose.”
What he actually said was, “In order for us to win, someone else has to lose.”
This is a huge difference.
The first quote suggest that the whole point of competing is the pleasure gained from grinding someone else into the dust and seeing them suffer.
The second quote merely states a creative principle.
I have to cross the line ahead of you.
So, if I can’t make myself faster than you, I need to make you slower than me.
This is simply how sport works.
Look at Snooker.
The game is based on scoring points by either potting more balls myself, or forcing you into a position where you give away more points.
That’s what a ‘snooker’ is.
Look at Football.
You win by scoring more goals, but also by making the other team score less.
Look at Boxing.
You win by hitting your opponent more, but also by making him hit you less.
Look at Bridge, look at Darts, look at Ker-Plunk.
Blimey, look at Snap, look at I Spy.
Look at the very first games we start playing as soon as we’re old enough.
Look at Peek-a-Boo.
You play a game with a little baby to see if they can spot you behind your hands.
When they do they giggle.
It’s competitive, and it’s fun.
Years ago, when I was at BMP, one of the copywriters asked me to take her along to play squash.
I took her along to the court, and we started to play.
After a while she said, “This isn’t fair, you keep hitting the ball where I can’t get it.”
I explained that that was the point of the game.
She insisted that it was no fun that way, she wasn’t enjoying the game.
She said we should hit the ball so that we could each get to it, and hit it back and forth.
So we did that for a little while and it was of course incredibly boring.
The same is true of advertising.
If we could guarantee that our consumers only saw our ad today, then we could be as nice and gentle as we liked.
But it’s estimated that each of us sees around a thousand advertising messages a day.
TV, posters, radio, print, online, ambient, PoS.
Quick, name one you remember from yesterday.
And that’s the problem.
Even if you can name one from yesterday, that’s one out of a thousand.
And that’s the competitive area we work in.
Just getting on the radar.
Beating the other nine hundred and ninety nine ads for attention.
However you slice it that’s competitive.
And you either think that’s fun or you don’t.
If you don’t, you can just play pat the ball against the wall, backwards and forwards, so you can each get it easily.
It’s nice and friendly and uncompetitive.
But it isn’t sport, and it isn’t advertising.