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Are Fewer Competitors a Good Thing?

Posted by: Jena McGregor on July 21, 2009

Apparently, we perform better when there are fewer competitors. In the classroom, at least: Researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Haifa in Israel (highlighted in The Economist) found that test scores dropped as the number of students in the exam room increased.

Garcia and Tor set out to find out whether the results were due to the psychological effects from the perceived number of competitors or just distraction from so many people being crowded into one room. They designed two studies in which they told two sets of participants they were competing against a smaller or larger group of opponents. In both—one involved a general-knowledge quiz and the other an imaginary 5K race—the participants who thought they were competing against a smaller number of people scored better.

The study could have profound effects on the way tests are run in schools. But what implications does it have as a management idea? Would knowing you’re competing with one person for the top job help you perform better than if you thought the field was open? (Fewer succession races these days are sharply defined.) Would fewer teams of more people compete better than more teams of smaller numbers of people? And would do we perform better in markets where there are fewer outside competitors?

Several commenters on the story felt the applications to business were minimal. What do you think?

Reader Comments

Thomas Huynh

July 21, 2009 10:05 PM

I read this Economist article over the weekend and it's fascinating stuff. The tendency to compete harder in smaller groups relies perhaps on the idea that you have a better chance to be on top versus competing against a large crowd. Whatever the cause, yes, why not experiment with the classroom seating arrangement and see if better learning takes place ... or a cutthroat environment ensues!

Thomas, founder


July 22, 2009 5:16 AM

Thanks for the good article! This is true. We could implement this in normal business where teams are involved. In smaller groups, the amount of visibility is high thereby people would be more inclined to be honest in completing a task. Once they have this attitude then all individuals would want to compete fiercely to stay on top. Above all, the number of competitors is less hence chance of success is more on a psychological view point.


July 23, 2009 4:26 AM

I am very satisfied such these theme.Team work performances are essential one,but individual effort is more.


July 29, 2009 1:25 PM

I'm actually 50/50 on this. But I think in the market it is fundamental to have more competitors, that way a company has to work extra hard to satisfy the clients and I think that is the best way for the economy, having only few competitors would make businesses and business owners lazy to grow.

On the other side if we are looking about studying group probably is better to have fewer group of more people, different cultures, different level of knowledge and different skills, all of these together would make a project more successful. (Assuming people would get on, which would be a big IF)



August 2, 2009 9:46 PM

It makes sense and I had a teacher in MBA school that did an exercise in the same concept. Most of us didn't really get what he was talking about but in the end we all understood the 'less company more competition' theory. I don't think even a digital picture frames company with 1000s of competitors would act the same if there were only a couple.



November 11, 2009 3:27 PM

I think it's may be true. Especially for psychology degree.

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