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A Reflection on Competition

by Lynn Kelley
February 22, 2018

A Reflection on Competition

by Lynn Kelley
February 22, 2018 | Comments (3)

Business competition is brutal, snowflake. So, if you want to win that raise, promotion, or just keep your crummy job, make sure rivals are covered by tire marks from being under that proverbial bus -- courtesy of you.

But there’s an alternative to that intense mode of competition that’s healthier for us as people and more effective for our companies, says Lynn Kelley, PhD, senior vice president-supply chain and continuous improvement, Union Pacific Railroad.

“Companies whose primary motivation is to beat the competition do worse in the marketplace than companies whose primary motivation is to deliver value,” says Kelley, citing research.

Join Lynn now to hear her concise, informative, and entertaining Lean Talk about competition versus collaboration, based on research from business, sports, and a personal experiment from her own career.


  • 00:58 – Beset by intense competitors; backstabbing and rumors
  • 1:24 – Could I be the root cause?
  • 2:12 – An experiment in collaboration, praise, sharing notes, etc.
  • 3:45 – What the research says about competition in business and sports
  • 5:46 – The 3 unique ways of achieving any goal
  • 7:30 – Negative effects of competition on people
  • 8:52 – W. Edwards Deming versus Vince Lombardi

Are you interested in learning more from Lynn and other leading lean practitioners? Save your seat now for Lean Talks, Monday evening, March 26, and register for the 2018 Lean Transformation Summit.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  collaboration,  leadership,  reflection
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Tim Del Vecchio February 26, 2018

I depends on how you set up the competition. I think it's faulty to say all competition is not good, and that collaboration has to be the opposite of competition.

I've set up competitions where the goal is to work together to achieve a goal such that all shifts or all sites win if we collaborate to hit a total site/regional goal.

Reply »

Lynn Kelley February 27, 2018


Thanks for raising this point.   I don't disagree with you on there being instances where competition is good.  In fact, the example of the Olympic competitors who train together (collaborate) and then compete illustrates the success of that model.   I bring up this topic because I believe we are far too focused on competition and don't really recognize the downsides--or unintended consequences of competition, which can diminish collaboration.   You also raise the point that you believe that collaboration and competition are not opposites.   I'm not sure that I believe that they are true opposites--so in that way I agree with you.  However, I believe that often when people, companies, athletes....are in competition with each other, they don't usually collaborate.   I think the probability is somewhere over 50%, but not 100% opposite.  Thanks for weighing in.  I appreciate the dialogue.


Reply »

Dr Tony Burns August 31, 2019

Dr Kelley,

I notice that you promote Six Sigma.  Are you aware that Six Sigma was created by a psychologist, Mikel Harry, who admitted he knew nothing about quality? 

Harry claimed that ALL processes shift or drift by +/-1.5 sigma every 50 points.  He based this ridiculous claim on the height of a stack of discs!  He called his nonsense Benderizing.  It forms the 'six sigma' of Six Sigma.

Of the 58 large companies announced Six Sigma programs, 91 percent have trailed the S&P 500 since.  Even GE, its once best reference, has tossed the SS trash out.

Please read my papers exposing the Six Sigma scam: 











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