Competitive Synergy

It’s a hot and humid day on the ranch. Tex is working hard, but his Belgian horse is working harder, hauling goods and plowing fields.

Tex knows Belgian horses are one of the strongest breeds, able to tow up to four times their weight (about 8000 pounds). But there is simply too much work to do, and his horse, Gunner, is showing signs of fatigue from the overwhelming workload.

Tex decides it’s time to get a second horse. The next day Tex visits his friend’s local stable and picks out another strong Belgian steed named Sunny.

When he gets back to his farm, Tex pairs Gunner and Sunny up with a yolk and puts them to work. He knows the two horses working together should be able to pull double the weight, but he is shocked at how easily the two horses haul double loads.

As Tex gradually increases the size of the loads, he is amazed at how much two Belgian horses can pull when working together. On the fourth day, he estimates Gunner and Sunny pulled a load equivalent to six times their body weight, as opposed to four.

How could this be? Did Tex luck out and get a new horse with super strength? Nope.

So how is it that one Belgian horse can pull 8000 pounds while two Belgian horses of the same size and strength can pull 24,000 pounds?

You would think the answer is synergy, which is defined as “An interaction or cooperation giving rise to a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.” It comes from the Greek word synergia, meaning “working together”. That’s where the old saying “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” comes from.

The concept of synergy applies in business (mergers), relationships (marriage), and the consumption of drugs (synergistic effect), just to name a few.

In the case of Tex’s horses, most would assume the synergy lies in the physics of the yolk, but that’s not the case. If you are into all things equestrian, you probably know the reason. 

When paired together, Belgian horses will exert themselves more to try to lead the way and set the pace for the other one. 

So in this case, it’s actually not synergy, but rather, competition between the horses.

To use another example in sports, professional football teams don’t just have backup quarterbacks in case their first string QB gets hurt. Another reason teams have multiple players for each position is so they compete against each other, which keeps them all striving for optimal performance. After all, no player wants to lose their starting position. 

Today’s takeaway? 

Think about how competition can benefit you in life. If you run a business, develop scenarios in which your employees compete against each other in a friendly way. If you have kids, come up with fun contests to encourage them to do better than they otherwise would.

People often think cooperation and competition are mutually exclusive. They are not. In fact, the best results are often achieved by combining them both into a concept I call “competitive synergy”.