Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman, Twelve, 352 pages, $27.99, Hardcover, February 2013, ISBN 9781455515158
No one wants to be a loser, no matter how unimportant the game. Winning is fun, it makes you feel good, and winning validates the effort invested. In this regard, everyone is competitive. But, clearly, how we show that competitiveness and how much we value it is different from person to person.
Po Bronson (author of What Should I Do With My Life?) and Ashley Merryman, (Bronson’s co-author of NurtureShock) have written a new book that examines the science behind our innate competitive spirit entitled Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing. Drawing heavily on scientific experiments and case studies, Top Dog is a fascinating glimpse into the psychology and biology that fuels how we react to both winning and losing in different situations.
Sometimes the stakes are low (competitive dancing) and sometimes high (surviving a jump from a plane), but in all cases, competition is stressful. The level of stress can vary by situation, and even by gender, but the key factor is how much of a chance we feel we have at winning. Bronson and Merryman explain:
For most of us, competitive fire is hugely impacted by what we feel our odds of success are. It’s a big difference if you’re competing against ten people or competing against 100. When the field is too large, and the chance to be near the top is slim, people don’t try as hard.
That perceived chance of winning, determines the level of stress involved. And how we deal with that stress drives both our actual chances of success, and how much we allow ourselves to lose, or rather, give up.
But the pressures of winning aren’t only in our heads. Your work environment can encourage healthy competition, or unmanageable stress in the face of competition. For managers, this insight can become a tool, a way to create the perceived chance to win so employees are encouraged to seek opportunities we know we have a chance at succeeding in, and truly give our best effort.
Understanding the science of competition that Bronson and Merryman present through their delightful stories and concrete data in Top Dog could be the key to the motivation, performance, innovation, and even personal fulfillment that so many are looking for.