i agree wholeheartedly, Eric, that we must be precise when talking about
these terms. But i'm not sure you have been. To me, competition is like a
track or swimming race where people must stay in their own lanes and not
interfere with the others. Individual (or team) excellence will dtermine
the result. This is the type of competition that American companies are
supposed to engage in. In your example, it would imply a contest, where you
and i would see who could get our respective boxes across the floor first.
What you refer to as competition, i call conflict. Most of our sports and
recreations: football, soccer, boxing, etc., are actually conflicts, where,
in addition to achieving a goal, an individual or team attempts to interfere
with the other "side's" achievement of their goal. This is NOT the type of
competition companies are supposed to engage in. This, now, is your example
of us pushing on opposite sides of the box.
Organizationally, this difference is crucial. For instance, many managers
believe that they will achieve greater performance from their charges if
they pit them one against another for limited rewards. And this might be
true if the situation was truly competitive (my definition). However, too
often participants come to believe that their interests are better served by
making the contest a conflict. And it usually only takes one to turn
competition into conflict. And managers, who really can't (or won't)
control when this happens, often end up with disastrous unintended consequences.