Is competition a good or a bad thing?
Your answer largely depends on your personal worldview. If you’re a big believer in free markets and how business competition drives innovation and lowers prices, then your answer is probably yes. But you might not agree if you prefer working together with people instead of against them, and have seen instances where competition has brought out the worst instincts in people.
Let’s examine competition through the lens of a “Prettiest Home on the Block” contest. You know, the type of challenge where homeowners try to design the most picturesque landscaping, house facade, and lawn accoutrements with the hopes of being honored by a neighborhood association for their efforts. The prize is usually a sign in the yard showcasing their award and perhaps a mention or photo in a neighborhood newsletter.
You could certainly make the argument that these “Prettiest Home on the Block” competitions have tangible benefits. After all, they encourage homeowners to keep up their homes and even to strive to achieve new levels of beauty and curb appeal. Ideally, people who live outside the neighborhood take notice, which contributes to the attractiveness of the area. Ultimately, this added desirability is reflected in higher home prices and increased home values for everyone on the block.
On the other hand, it is possible to place too much importance on a “Prettiest Home on the Block” contest. Since the condition of one’s home often reflects on them personally, you could end up with homeowners turning the competition into a unhealthy battle of sorts. In these circumstances, you get an erosion in the spirit of neighborliness, and perhaps even extralegal measures being taken in order to secure the prize. As a result, such a contest could lower the quality of life for the neighborhood instead of raise it.
The bottom line is that it’s difficult to assess the wisdom of a “Prettiest Home on the Block” contest without taking into account the details of the challenge itself. First and foremost, it’s probably not smart to dangle a tangible prize for the winner (like a cash award or a preferred clubhouse parking spot), because the additional incentive may be enough to emphasize the negative aspects of competition. It’s also essential that any such contest be equipped with a clear set of rules on what is and is not allowed along with at least a rudimentary explanation of how the winner will be chosen. Finally, any instances of cheating or unfair play should be addressed promptly; and if such behavior continues, an elimination of the entire competition should be considered.
The goal of producing the most attractive entry in a contest has differing dynamics depending on the type of competition. For instance, artists trying to win a blue ribbon in a county fair might approach the challenge differently than the entrants in a “beauty queen” pageant at the local high school. When it comes to “Prettiest Home” competitions, there is a line between embracing the spirit of improving neighborhood aesthetics and engaging in whatever means necessary in order to win. As long as your block’s dynamics remain on the correct side of that line, these types of challenges can benefit the neighborhood and its residents.
Written by Chris Martin