For years I have been enamored by the philosophy of noncompetitive advancement.
The idea is that to be the best you can be requires one to focus on getting better as an individual. There is no emphasis on winning, only on improving.
That’s not to say that those who follow this philosophy don’t try to win. Some of the most competitive people I have known have learned in the environment of noncompetition. It means that winning is not the goal. Becoming better at what you are doing is the goal.
I was introduced to this concept at a boy’s camp in North Carolina when I was 13. Camp Mondamin and its sister camp, Camp Green Cove, started in 1925. Like many other camps, they spent their first 25 years or so hawking the virtues of competition. At one time the camps were known as one of the countries top camps for learning to ride jumping horses. At the end of the summer they had a horse show to show off the campers’ skills to their parents who had come to retrieve their children.
One year, the director, Frank Bell Sr., was leaving the barn after the show and saw a young girl crying on the steps. He asked her what was wrong and she said that she had come in second. Because of that conversation, the era of competition ended at Camps Mondamin and Green Cove.
Bell said that he realized that a young girl shouldn’t be crying because she was known as the second-best rider in one of the premier riding camps in America. She should be encouraged and happy by that result. Something was wrong with learning in that competitive environment.
Since then the motto of the camps is “learning to excel on one’s personal frontier.” Focus on what you can do to get better every day and the rest will take care of itself.
Also since then Camp Mondamin has been known as a fertile learning ground for whitewater paddling. It has produced Olympic medalists, world champions and national champions in whitewater slalom competition, whitewater rodeo world champions and it has staffed whitewater river guides all over the world.
The riding program, especially at Green Cove, is still one of the best. All of this has come from an environment of non-competition.
Expanding the philosophy
I think that this philosophy has merit in almost any environment. It seems to me that much of the frustration that occurs in the financial industry comes from the idea that someone else is doing better than we are. The financial media harks on who is winning and who is losing. It wants you to know what is hot right now and what is not without any regard for your own personal financial well-being.
There is no doubt in my mind that this idea of bettering your fellow investors has forced many investors to stretch their portfolios too far out on the risk scale – something that hit many investors hard this past year.
I can’t imagine how different investor portfolios would look if they focused solely on what was best for them and disregarded all of the outside noise that comes to us completely unfiltered.
We can see the results of a lifetime of investing focused solely on one’s own goals. Warren Buffett appears to have no concern at all for what other people are doing. If he finds a company he likes at a price that he likes and it fits into his long-term goals, he buys it. It doesn’t really matter what is happening in the market or what other “experts” are doing with their money. That kind of thinking has made him the richest investor of our time.
My guess is that Warren Buffett spends most of his day finding ways to be better at what he is doing and very little time concerned with how well he compares to others.
We have been engrossed in this concept of beating everyone else for a long time. It is becoming something that is hard-wired into our system, so I know it won’t be easy to break out and start thinking in such a radically different way.
But it could make a great deal of difference in your result.
Scott Reed, CIMA, AIFA, is CEO of Hardy Reed Capital Advisors in Tupelo.