Running From Bears: Competition Assessments.


Steve Schmidt has served as a political consultant and Republican strategist. I’m not entirely sure what his current role is, but I do subscribe to his newsletter because he sometimes includes something of interest for me as I try to sort through the political nightmare that is my country’s path right now. It’s a choice, fellow Americans, and rather than watch the likes of Mika and Joe in the morning, I have started following those whose opinions might be worth something. Anyway, politics is not the point of this missive; assessing the competition is.

In his latest column, Steve Schmidt, political analyst, talks about the ecosystem of Alaska, specifically the life of the salmon, who swims upstream to lay eggs before being eaten by bears and other predators. It’s the life cycle of things. He mentions that when you are visiting Alaska, the guides will tell you that you cannot outrun a bear, so don’t even try. What he says next really sent a jolt through me:

"American politics is not unlike the vast estuary where the bears roam. The first thing that every bear guide will tell you is that running is a bad idea. They will be sure to point out that it is impossible to outrun a grizzly bear. Left unsaid is what everyone is thinking who hears the message. No one is worried about outrunning the bear. Everyone is focused on what person they intend to outrun. That is the way life works. What is said aloud isn’t often as important as the things left unsaid."

I’ve played sports. I’ve competed in business. Perhaps to my detriment, I have never really looked around to determine who I could outrun in anything in which I was competing. At tennis tournaments, I didn’t watch the other players. I play competitive backgammon now and have no idea about the person sitting across from me and how they approach their game. I just play my game. In business, there are plenty of other companies that do what I do, but I don’t really look at them. However, there are times — lots of them, actually — when I wish I’d thought of something they did. So I write or talk about it and give the person credit because, at the end of the day, we’re all in this together.

After pondering the fate of those on the Alaska bear tour in the backwoods of Alaska when I woke up at 1 in the morning last night, the one I will never take, I realized that they would all look at me and decide they could outrun me, thereby feeling secure as we head out into the wilderness. Not so fast people.

They will be assessing the physical attributes of those around them: what they can see and what they’ve assumed based on their experience with each person. That’s the mistake that’s made when you begin to assess the competition, which I am now convinced I need to do. It’s what you can’t see that will take you down. It’s the part of me that might make a right turn and head up a tree rather than run with the crowd, like the fabulous Katniss Everdeen in the “Hunger Games” series. It’s my desire to live that might allow me to run faster than I have ever run before — perhaps faster than you. In other words, it’s what you can’t see that you must take into consideration. It’s the unseen variables, the factors that make this one particular situation in business unique for you, and the effort you will exert as a result. So while you clearly need to assess those around you and determine what characteristics of theirs could hold you back, you must push forward toward what you want, unafraid of failure. Put in every effort and leave no stones unturned. If Goliath looks to be in front of you, ignore them. Go forward with your best, and just keep an eye on them. Think about what they might have missed as a result of their hubris or their experiences that have blinded them to all that isn’t on their radar.

So go forth and fear not the grizzly bear chasing you in your business plan. If you want to fear something, fear that you are not motivated enough to give it all you’ve got. And then decide you will, and just do it.