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A flock of chickens were in a yard when a football flew over the fence and landed in their midst. A rooster waddled over, studied it, then said, "I'm not complaining, girls, but look at the work they're turning out next door."

Competition is healthy. It keeps us sharp. It makes us better. It improves quality. We should not only welcome stiff competition, but we should also actively seek it. We'll never realize our full potential in business or athletics unless we are challenged.

Competition has made me a better businessman, a better golfer and a better person. And when there isn't another company or business to compete with, I try to outdo myself. If that sounds simple, well, it is. I always want to be at my best and show my best side.

When legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden diagrammed his famous pyramid of success, he put "competitive greatness" near the very top for a reason.

But a problem I see all too frequently is that people are afraid of competition. Perhaps it's because they fear losing, but I suspect a better reason is that they know they are not as prepared as the competition. They are not willing to put in the necessary hard work, training and sacrifice.

As much as I love to come out on top, I'm too realistic to believe the "winning is everything" philosophy. Because after so many years in business, I know that you can't win 'em all. But there is no excuse for not giving it your best shot.

Knowing what you are up against is half the battle, for example. Does your competition have a better product, better service, better training, better financing or better location? Learn from their successes.

A story about how American industrialist Charles Schwab managed an unproductive steel mill appears in Dale Carnegie's book "How to Win Friends and Influence People." Schwab asked the mill manager for a piece of chalk and said, "How many heats did your shift make today?"

The manager replied, "Six." So Schwab wrote a big "6" on the floor. When the night shift came in, they saw the big number six and asked what it meant. The manager explained that the big boss was in here today and asked how many heats the day shift made and wrote the number on the floor.

The next morning Schwab toured the mill again. The night shift had rubbed out "6" and replaced it with a big "7." Well, the day shift wanted to show the night shift a thing or two and wrote an enormous "10" on the floor. Soon that mill was outperforming all the other mills.

When I wrote my book "Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt," I devoted a chapter to how to beat your competition. Here is a quick summary:

  • If you just show up, you are a winner 80% of the time.
  • If you show up on time, you're a winner 85% of the time.
  • Show up on time and with a plan, and that number jumps to 90%.
  • Show up on time with a plan and a commitment to carry it out, and you are successful 95% of the time.
  • If you show up on time with a plan, a commitment to carry it out and then execute it, you will be successful 100% of the time.

Mackay's Moral: Competition is fuel for those who are driven to succeed.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or email