Is Competition Creativity’s Secret Killer?

Award shows and competitions often excite us. We get the popcorn popping while we put on comfy pants and watch judges choose the best person in a particular industry. But what if what they’re judging is artistic, something creative. Can competition then be harmful?

The competition follows us in every aspect of our lives. We, consciously or subconsciously, compete with classmates for academic standing. We compete with colleagues for a more prominent seat at the table or for a specific job. Sometimes we even compete with ourselves, comparing ourselves to our past versions and pushing for better.

And while some do share the opinion that competition is one of the most effective driving forces out there that pushes individuals to do better and achieve greater things, not everybody agrees.


When Is Competition Necessary?

Imagine having a boring life, where every day is the same. No one tries to best you or prove that they’re better at what you both do. And soon, you start growing comfortable with your daily routine. Perhaps becoming a bit too comfortable. In these cases, competition is vital as it becomes the only motivation that forces you outside that comfort zone, popping the bubble of protection you’ve crafted. And as you embark on the uncomfortable journey of thinking and acting in ways you never did before, your new night routine evolving to include cursing your competitor (turned nemesis for life), you’ll slowly begin to grow. That’s the only way to realize the truth behind the saying that nothing good comes from staying within our comfort zones.

Another way competition plays a significant role in our development is by teaching us how to handle failure, something we all despise. While failing is not a particularly pleasant feeling, competing with others helps us learn from our mistakes and create plans to avoid falling into the same traps in the future.

After throwing our tantrums, we take a step back, breath, and analyze both our performance as well as our competitor’s, examining why they did well and why we didn’t. In some cases, this analysis could come after tears of joy and not tears of sadness as we examine what we did well and learn from the competitor’s mistakes. Epiphany moment: sports movie scenes where athletes tape games and look over footage of themselves have been trying to tell us this since forever!


But Does Creativity Need to be Judged?

The short answer is no. The long answer is:

Creativity is the process of exploring new and untested ideas. Painters might try new brushstroke techniques, filmmakers might decide to merge various shooting methods, musicians might experiment with mixing different genres together, and writers might choose new storytelling formats to tell stories. However, competitions ruin creativity.

After analyzing several online graphic design competitions, a recent study discovered that participants who received good feedback in their earlier phases would rarely make significant changes to their designs, deciding to play it safe. Art, no matter its form, should never be described as safe.

According to philosopher John Dewey’s book, Art as Experience, the beauty of art lies in the fact that it derives dynamic human experiences. Creators create art, a process that is quite personal, to share an experience, while spectators come to this art with their own experiences, each forming different meanings for what they see, read or hear.

Thus, one of the primary purposes of creativity is to evoke emotions, whether in the artist or the audience. It connects us as we start to realize that we are not alone. Even if only one other person feels or thinks the way we do, we have them in this world. But how can we expect to create this human connection if we don’t take risks when creating, overcoming the fear that not everyone will like or get what we put out into the world? And more importantly, why do we need to judge and compare art when what matters the most is its role in bringing us together?

Another problem with competition in a creative industry is that it is usually judged based on subjective opinions. Unlike sports, the winner isn’t the person who ran the fastest or jumped the highest. Art could simply speak to someone and not another. Renowned artist Van Gogh is an excellent case in point. While he was heavily criticized during his time for creating something that did not fit the regular standards, his paintings are now admired worldwide and sold for millions.


Final Thoughts

It seems that competition, in any and all industries, falls into the ‘Goldilocks Paradox’. Too little competition will not motivate people and push them out of their comfort zones. Too much competition could lead to burnout and discouragement. Just the right amount of competition, though, can result in originality as we challenge ourselves allowing creativity and the risk-taking that comes with it to shine through.


Photo: beanimages/Shutterstock


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