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NO CONTEST: THE CASE AGAINST COMPETITION AND TOTAL QUALITY MANAGEMENT

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Provides a critical analysis of Alfie Kohn's No Contest The Case Against Competition including ...... More...
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Paper Abstract:
Provides a critical analysis of Alfie Kohn's "No Contest: The Case Against Competition" including key concepts, critical analysis and implications for Total Quality Management (TQM) environments.

Paper Introduction:
No Contest The Case Against Competition and Total Quality Management Introduction Competition is an integral part of daily life in the United States indeed it is so commonplace that most of us do not consider how pervasivecompetition has become Small children compete for their parents\'attention and in some cases even their love Schoolchildren compete forthe best grades or the best performance in sports High school studentscompete for the best SAT scores and college students for the best scoresfor graduate school Student athletes

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He argues that rewards such as increased pay areactually counterproductive, although he does not go into details much inthis work (Kohn, 1992). He argues that it is not human nature tocompete; indeed, that it is not even animal nature to compete, and thatAmericans have taken competition to an extreme level that permeates ourschool, our work and our play. In somecases, competition is used by teachers to create an interesting learningenvironment and hold the attention of students, but students who do notperform well in situations of competition are less likely to remainattentive. Americans are taught to work well independently--often incompetition with other individuals--but not to work as well as a team. Eachdivision must then make the discovery for themselves. Schoolchildren compete forthe best grades, or the best performance in sports. This is inefficientand leads to duplication of effort. He relies on anecdotalevidence, and relates incidents from well-known individuals as well as fromunknowns. Perhaps the most interesting argument that Kohn puts forth in theworkplace competitive environment is that competition does not yieldproductive results, but in fact, results in inefficiencies and duplicationof effort. TQMrequires teamwork to succeed, either in Quality Circles as the process istypically implemented in Japan, or through the sharing of information andresources. At the sametime, we use the term "loser" as a severe pejorative even though most of usare losers in that there can be far fewer winners than losers in mostsituations. Kohn offers concrete suggestions for changing the competitiveenvironment that pervades the United States--which is in marked contrast tothe environment in Japan and even Great Britain. New York: Houghton Mifflin. Inthe case of team sports, many others must lose. We reward winners, but we do not want ourwinners to be overly conceited or too sure of themselves. Anoutstanding student may well have failed at sports; an outstanding athletemay have failed in the workplace, and an outstanding employee may havefailed at marriage. Some of his assertions, such as the arguments he putsforth for competition not being common even among the animals lack strongsupporting evidence in his work. Kohn has identified key arguments--including the idea that competition is simply part of human nature--thatillustrate how difficult it will be to bring about a more co-operativesociety. Still, much of the work resonates to the individual reader becauseeven the most successful reader has failed throughout his or her life. Personal competition in such an environment is counterproductive tothe organization's goals. In school, competition can range from simple competitive games playedat the elementary school level to the grade curves of college. Hesuggests that competition exists as individuals compete for better pay,better titles, better parking places, increased recognition, betteroffices, and so forth. Student athletes compete to play on the best teams,and ideally learn how to be gracious both in victory and defeat. This is due in part to the lack of empirical studies performedon the effect of competition, although more have been done in the timesince the first publication of his work and these are discussed in thesecond publication. Even when individual employees do not engage in this type of obviouslydestructive behavior, there can be duplication of effort, leading toinefficiencies in the system. At the same time, some children will monopolize theteacher's attention even when they are performing poorly. The entertainment industry is rife with awardsfor the best actor, best make-up artist, best song, and so forth. A less competitive society would likely lead to less problemsin implementing TQM programs; this, in turn, would lead to greaterefficiencies and--ironically, perhaps--greater competitiveness in the worldmarket. Kohn also maintains that noncompetitiverecreation is more effective at providing the social and psychologicalbenefits that we associate with such activity, and that such noncompetitiveactivities avoid the paradoxes that we otherwise encounter when competing(Kohn, 1992). It is not difficult to see how he arrives at this conclusion.In a competitive environment, one person succeeds when another personfails, or at least achieves less. According to Kohn,competition causes severe psychological damage, leads to less than optimumproductivity, and is inefficient. He also notes, however, that progress has been made toward structuringrecreational activities that emphasize cooperation over competition, andthat a number of studies have demonstrated the deleterious effects thatcompetition can have on young people. In taking this approach,Kohn argues against conventional wisdom, which maintains that competitionbrings out the best possible performance. Rather thansharing information about a particular process or vendor or some otherinput, these divisions are likely to keep key information private. Companies compete for the highest short-term revenue, oreven the most employees. This can be particularly true when differentdivisions in different locations compete against one another. These paradoxes result from the mixed messages that we encounter in acompetitive environment. Still, competition remains a powerful force in the workplace, and onethat can be difficult for individual employees to overcome. Major Concepts & Key Points Kohn suggests nothing less than the seemingly counter-intuitiveargument that competition is bad. Accordingto Alfie Kohn, these perceptions are incorrect. Information becomes a valuablecommodity, and thus the system rewards those who hoard information bymaking it more difficult for those around them to perform their jobs.Instead of one person discovering something and sharing it with the rest ofthe group, each member of the group must discover it. On the one hand, we encourage competition andreward "winners"; on the other hand, we punish those who win at any cost,or who are caught cheating. The pressureto excel can result in the pressure to excel while others fail; thisresults in inefficiencies in the workplace, duplication of effort, lostresources and morale problems that can hamper rather than enhance acompany's prospects for success. Total qualitymanagement seeks to reduce all defects within an organization to zero.Most commonly, this approach is applied to manufacturing, but it can alsobe applied to service industries and to other areas of an organization.Companies may implement TQM across all departments, for example, seeking toreduce clerical errors and accounting errors as well as manufacturingerrors. Some people never recover from these, while most people overcome the angerand doubt that accompanies such situations and move on. In organizations where employees arerewarded for the number of errors that they identify and correct, there isincentive for employees to create errors and then correct them. Even small failures and setbacks can have some of thedevastating personal psychological effects that Kohn describes in the book. ReferenceKohn, A. No Contest: The Case Against Competition and Total Quality Management Introduction Competition is an integral part of daily life in the United States--indeed, it is so commonplace that most of us do not consider how pervasivecompetition has become. Sports and recreation offers the most obvious competitive environmentsfor adults and children alike. Critical Analysis of Issues Presented in the Text Despite the numerous footnotes in the text, Kohn cites relatively fewempirical studies to support his observations. Here again, Kohn arguesthat athletes perform best when measured only against their own times, notagainst others, and that they are less likely to take risks when in acompetitive environment. A child whoreceives a lower mark than classmates may also be more self-critical of thenext assignment, and be less likely to take creative or intellectual risks(Kohn, 1992). Throughout the text, Kohn is careful to emphasize that he is notadvocating mediocrity as the standard to which individuals should aspire.Instead, he notes that doing well is different than doing better thanothers, and that there are severe consequences on a personal and societallevel for emphasizing the latter over the former. Yet ifemployees are rewarded for hoarding information--even when that might notbe the stated goal--such hoarding will continue. Information about processes that work--and thosethat result in errors--is critical if defects are to be eliminated. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing companies that seek to implementTQM is overcoming the individual competitiveness that can hamper thecreation and existence of successful teams. Many Americans do notagree that recreation can be enjoyed without keeping score, in part becausesports and games so often require scorekeeping. Kohn argues that competition in the workplace is not productive anddoes not lead to increased efficiencies as is generally believed. The problem is particularly difficult to overcome in a TQMenvironment. Kohn believes that competition in theseareas results in less than optimum productivity, and in long-terminefficiencies in the economic and social system. Individuals who have beenidentified as outstanding can have difficulties working in teamenvironments since there is less likelihood that they will receive theindividual attention to they may be accustomed. We expect our losers to be gracious even when they havesuffered a crushing defeat on national television, a defeat that can bedifficult for them to bear on a personal level. AsAmericans, we are taught that competition is good, that it provides an"edge," that it leads to increased productivity and performance. This increases thelikelihood that errors will occur in the meantime, and also increases thelikelihood that resources that could be spent on more productive activitieswill be diverted. Employees who are rankedwithin the organization based on the number of errors for which they areresponsible have reasons to hide those errors, or shift the responsibility,which also is counterproductive. Small children compete for their parents'attention, and, in some cases, even their love. No contest: The Case against competition. He notes, however, that such changewill be difficult to bring about, particularly since parents believe thatcompetition is a) the way of the world and b) a character-buildingsituation. A child may well know theanswer to a problem, or know how to solve the problem, but be unable to putthat answer into words when called on in a classroom setting with everyonewatching him. At the same time, otherteam members may be intimated into not making suggestions since they areworking with high-powered individuals. He notes that if childrenare raised with noncompetitive games, they will be less likely to engage indamaging competitive games as adults. Shifting from a competitive to a co-operative environment can be difficult for many organizations, and requiresa shift in the corporate culture as well as education of the affectedemployees in teamwork, cooperation, and the benefits of this type ofprogram as well as the benefits of TQM. Conclusion It is unlikely that a single book can change the mindset of an entireculture, particularly when the culture as a whole does not recognize thatits mindset might need to be changed. This research considers Kohn's ideas aspresented in No Contest: The Case Against Competition, and considers theimplications for total quality management. In order for one person to win, another must lose. Kohn even describes an office scenariowhere an office whose agents who competed against each other performed lesswell than an office whose agents co-operated and shared information (Kohn,1992). (1992). Implications for Total Quality Management The implications for total quality management are many. Competition in a classroom environment also introduces a newdimension to learning--the dimension of performing under pressure--that mayhinder rather than enhance the learning process. High school studentscompete for the best SAT scores and college students for the best scoresfor graduate school. In theworkplace, employees vie for top salesman, or best performer, or employeeof the month. Recreational activities in the UnitedStates are nearly always competitive, even when it is a "friendly" game oftennis or poker.

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