Ronnie Apteker: The many lessons of golf – Compete within, not outside

Competition is a tough subject to crack. It can bring the best, and the worst, out of people. And as Coolfidence’s Ronnie Apteker says, there’s always a winner, and a loser. So is it really the way to look at one’s business and take it forward? Apteker uses the analogy of golf, and how one should rather strive to beat themselves than the competition. He looks at a concept called stretch. No, not the art of touching your toes. – Stuart Lowman

by Ronnie Apteker*

Ronnie Apteker
Ronnie Apteker

Is competition a good thing? We are all scripted to believe it is. People often say things like, “We welcome competition.” Is competition a natural thing? Is it a product of society or is it something inherent in all of us. Animals don’t compete. They try to survive – there is a big difference. Animals certainly don’t try and better each other in the process. The leopards, for example, are climbing trees, not the corporate ladder. It’s not about eating more, or catching the antelope faster than the next guy. It’s about eating – that’s it. I think. So, do we need to beat our competitors? Surely we should strive to beat ourselves, besides, why climb the corporate ladder when you can take the escalator?

Golf anyone?

Did someone say four-ball? Golf is big in the corporate world. And I mean really big. Have you ever stopped to consider how much wisdom lies in this compelling sport? Golf is not only about having fun and staying healthy, but it is about thought, patience and searching (for the ball that is). One view on sport is that it actually represents a chance for all of us to have other human beings push us to excel. But look at the philosophy of traditional team sports. We love pitting one team against another. The victors get to feel on top of the world and the losers feel like the world has ended. What have our champions achieved in this case? Are they really the best? Perhaps they are only slightly better than the rest. In business we often get caught in the trap where we measure ourselves against our competitors. Is this a good thing? If this is what competition does for our hunger then I am not so sure. What if we end up only a little better than starving?

Let’s get back to golf. Competition is a flawed paradigm – competition promotes win/lose behaviour, which is not good in the long term. This is where golf really makes its mark. Golf is a sport where a person plays against him or her-self. If “competition” is the old way of thinking (just humour me this fine spring day, ok?) then let’s call “stretch” the paradigm of tomorrow. Stretch is about striving to reach your true potential. Stretch can be described as a more advanced principle than that of competition. In golf, for example, you can play on your own. And you always try to stretch yourself. You always strive to maximize your full potential. Each time you stretch yourself you realize more of your true potential.



A business represents a group of people – a team. And this is probably where the cracks start appearing. A team should try challenging itself to continually improve on the day before, the week before or the year before. And we need teams. “We” compete better than “I”. There is enough competition in the marketplace – there is no need to bring it into your corporation.

I guess we can debate whether competition is a natural principle for hours? Or whether it is something that is a result of our surroundings and the society we have been conditioned by. The world is in an anxious state (just watch the news on any given day). There are too many obsolete and incomplete paradigms in the world. Competition is one of them. We live in a world where we are told that competition is good for us. And it is a powerful, deeply entrenched principle that is old fashioned. It is not a paradigm of mutual benefit, but rather of win/lose. Win/lose is incomplete. All teams need to win. Take a soccer match, for example. Can both teams win? How can this be so? Dig deep into your imaginations here. If the principle was “stretch” and not “competition” then both teams could win. The game could always be a draw and each team would try to do better than they did before and they would stretch themselves and try to realize their full potential. And in the match itself you would exercise, bond, socialize and have fun. In short: we could get 2 teams to play each other and reap all the benefits of social interaction and yet at the same time we could have everyone be winners.

Summing up

In the company I represent we do not try and clobber our competitors but instead we work at being better all the time (ie, at being better than ourselves, by stretching). When a competitor drops in from another solar system and we will be as strong as we possibly can be. And it will take us working at our full potential to beat the unknown. Modern businesses really need to think about their value systems. If you say you value co-operation, do you put in place methods to reward internal competition? If you say you value innovation, do you reward conformity? The next time you take to the golf course think about these things.

I found this text floating around on the Internet a long time ago. Its wisdom guides me daily:

The Many Lessons of Golf

  • Ronnie Apteker is one of the three founders of Internet Solutions. His latest business endeavour is – click here to see what it’s about. You can follow him @RonnieApteker.
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