On my flight to Paris I finally got to watch the documentary "Waiting for Superman". The film documents the plight of education in the United States and underscores the dysfunctions within an educational system which risks being able to compete globally. A complex problem no doubt, but it got me thinking about the notion of competition.
Competition makes us better. It drives us to innovate, even when we don't particularly feel like it. The design school I graduated from (Pratt) was particularly competitive. Primarily, the students were in competition with other students. The school was in competition with other schools (attempting to attract the best raw talent) and the instructors were in competition with other instructors leveraging the work of their students to demonstrate that they were doing the best work in the school.
When I entered a studio and put my work up on the wall, often after an all night session of working on it, I was in direct competition with everyone else on that wall. And we respected each other for it. Those who didn't put in the effort stood out like sore thumbs. The unspoken code was that they didn't deserve a place on the wall next to those who obviously put in the effort. But those scenarios were rare, because most of us brought our A game every time. Competition was universally understood. It was like breathing oxygen.
Can there be innovation without competition? I seriously doubt it's possible. If there's no incentive to do what you do better--if we remove all risk and rewards and substitute them for complete and total security, then the potential to innovate dies, along with our own dreams for making something better.