Wanted to point out to a really interesting study/paper on the effects of rivalry and competition on individual performance. In the study titled 'Driven to Win: Rivalry, Motivation, and Performance', author and researcher Gavin Kilduff took a look at what the phenomenon of interindividual rivalry (think Bird - Magic, Bill Gates - Larry Ellison, or Beatles - Rolling Stones) and its consequences for motivation and task performance.
Long story short, (and the paper is kind of long so I will save you from reading the entire thing if that is not your bag for a Friday), is that in a study of competitive distance runners it was found that the presence in the competition of a rival, increased individual performance by as much as 25 seconds over a distance of 5K.
And the paper makes an important distinction between what constitutes a rival versus the more general and generic idea of competition. A rival, in this context, is another runner with which you have competed against numerous times in the past and whose finishing times were consistently near to yours, such that in the course of many races contested over time you would have come to 'know' and recognize that competitor as a rival.
So at the starting line, during the race, and in the important drive to the finish line you would in theory see and recognize this rival, and at least according to the study, your performance would improve relative to a race where you were just trying to do your best and not trying to best your rival.
It is kind of an interesting concept I think, that there is a difference in performance that is driven by a rivalry compared to the more general and abstract notion of competition. Competition is vague. A rivalry has a name and a face and talks trash about you sometimes.
If indeed we perform better when we have a rival what might that suggest for more mundane situations in the workplace? Should managers more actively pit one employee against another in performance-related competitive situations in order to foster the notion of rivalry?
Should organizations more explicitly identify and benchmark against key competitors and strive to 'defeat' them in sales, recruiting, or other corporate contests?
Should each if us personally select or identify a 'rival' to measure ourselves against and to compete with on a day-to-day basis?
It's a jungle out there my friends...