Competition criticism according to Alfie Kohn
Critiques of competition have been a topic of discussion in various fields, as some argue that competition is necessary for progress and success, while others suggest that it can have negative impacts on individuals and society. In his book No Contest: The Case Against Competition, Alfie Kohn, in particular, challenges common arguments that support the idea of competition as necessary, enjoyable, and productive. Kohn’s work encourages us to question assumptions about competition and explore alternative approaches, such as collaboration and cooperation, to achieve success.
1. Competition is necessary to build character and prepare individuals for the “real world?
Alfie Kohn opposes the idea that competition is necessary to build character and prepare individuals for the “real world”. He suggests that this argument is based on the mistaken assumption that the “real world” is inherently competitive, and that individuals need to be trained to succeed in a “dog-eat-dog” environment.
Kohn argues that this assumption is incorrect and that, in fact, many successful individuals in the world achieve their success through collaboration and cooperation rather than fierce competition. It also suggests that character traits often associated with competition, such as aggressiveness and individualism, are not necessarily desirable qualities for a healthy and functioning society. Instead of promoting competition as a means of building character, Kohn suggests that we should focus on developing cooperation and empathy as key values. These values, he argues, are more likely to lead to a society that is more compassionate, just and sustainable.
2. Competition is necessary for innovation and progress?
Alfie Kohn challenges the idea that competition is necessary for innovation and progress. He argues that competition can actually be counterproductive to these goals by creating a narrow focus on winning at all costs, which can lead to unethical behavior and a lack of creativity.
Kohn suggests that a more collaborative approach, in which individuals work together towards a common goal rather than competing against each other, can lead to more innovative and creative solutions. He cites examples of successful businesses that have adopted a more cooperative approach, such as the Japanese automotive industry, which has emphasised teamwork and quality improvement rather than cutthroat competition.
Kohn also points out that many of the greatest innovations in history, were not driven by competition but by a desire to explore and discover. He argues that innovation and progress are more likely to be achieved through intrinsic motivation, rather than external pressure to outdo others.
3. Competition is an inherent aspect of human nature?
Alfie Kohn challenges the notion that competition is an inherent aspect of human nature. He argues that while competition may be a common behavior in many societies, it is not a universal characteristic of human nature. Kohn suggests that competition is a learned behavior that is reinforced by social and cultural factors.
Kohn also critiques the idea that competition is an inevitable and necessary feature of human life. He points out that cooperation and collaboration are also integral aspects of human nature, and that these behaviors have been essential to human survival and progress. He argues that competition often undermines cooperation and can lead to harmful outcomes, such as social isolation, inequality, and a focus on individual gain at the expense of others.
4. Competition is enjoyable and fun?
Some people argue that competition is enjoyable and fun, and that it provides motivation for individuals to strive towards achieving their goals. However, Alfie Kohn challenges this argument in his book “No Contest: The Case Against Competition.”
Kohn argues that while competition may be enjoyable for some individuals who are already highly skilled and successful, it can be highly stressful and anxiety-inducing for others. Moreover, he contends that the enjoyment of competition is often based on the idea of being better than others rather than on the intrinsic satisfaction of learning and developing new skills.
Kohn also points out that competition often leads to a narrow focus on winning, which can undermine the enjoyment and fun of participating in an activity. He argues that activities should be valued for their own sake, rather than being turned into a competition where the focus is solely on the outcome.
5. Competition is more productive?
Alfie Kohn challenges the idea that competition is more productive than other approaches. He argues that competition can actually be counterproductive in many contexts.
Kohn suggests that competition often leads to a focus on short-term gains and narrow goals rather than long-term sustainability and broad success. Moreover, he claims that competition can create negative emotions that inhibit mobility and reduce productivity.
Kohn also suggests that competition can foster a culture of cheating, where individuals are encouraged to cut corners and behave unethically in order to win. This can lead to a decline in overall productivity and a lack of trust and cooperation between individuals and groups.
Alfie Kohn: No Contest: The Case Against Competition, 1992.
Painting: Horse racing at Epsom (1821) by Theodore Gericault