The Difference Between Critical Thinking and Competitive Thinking

Critical thinking [en, wiki] is appreciated as a quality, most looked for in the educational process.

Competitive thinking is also appreciated, especially in certain cultural and economic frameworks.

Although these two can go hand in hand, they are not necessarily one to the other, nor they are in any way a manner to consider oneself better than the other. There is a huge misrepresentation in the mindsets of those who use these words.

Some might associate competitive thinking with social Darwinism, but the concept precedes Darwin, therefore associating competitiveness with a natural rule to which all men must subject is a huge error. Therefore, what are the purposes of competition?


1. To create quality. As competitiveness [en, wiki], the competitive thinking appraises the performance to which, in capitalism, the companies, strategize to compete for the consumer/user’s attention. This, of course, is the best use of competitiveness, when it truly serves the end-user, by offering a better product/service at a lower price. That can happen either intentional (that is, the company’s mission is to permanently improve the services, to the best use of clients, or unintentional (the result of competition between two companies clashing over the size of the market, delivering as a secondary benefit advantage to the client). But in order to truly hit this target, the companies must focus on a strategy about profits, not on supremacy. But there is too much the tendency to use this excuse, when in fact the competition between companies or between people is not for profits, but for supremacy, which brings us to the second case.


2. To prove superiority. Any person, at a certain point in life, may it be in childhood, adolescence, youth, or later ages has the drive to feel unique, significant, important by being better than others. The idea of “better” implies a comparison. When one engages in competition in order to be appreciated in comparison for the uttermost reason of being no. 1 (in something), then the temptation of disdain comes to mind. The disdain is the complete lack of consideration towards those who are considered lower than oneself in a certain hierarchy. There is a certain joy in thriving over the competitor, but those who win this game the best are those who actually compete with themselves while competing with others. There is, certainly, in the individualist cultures, like in the Balkans region [en, wiki] (Romania included), the misrepresentation of excessive competitiveness as a virtue. Here, of course, there is no strategy, just ego.


3. To provide expertise. By “expert” I refer to those who can provide cutting-edge services at a superior level of competence. I refer to those who have years of experience and a personality oriented towards their profession. Such an expert does not care for ego, nor for market share, but for the precision of a job done as close to perfection as possible. It’s the expert’s way or the highway, and for very good reasons, because the expert knows best.

(keep reading ↓)

Competitiveness is, in this situation, a land where “the eagles dare” and “titans clash”, where the competition is not measured in nr. 1 position or in revenues, but in system engineering. The strategy is, for experts, just a part of their mission to care for markets, clients, customers. Although such an expert has a general perspective on the implications of his actions, he is working at a very specific level, which matters the most. Competitiveness in system engineering, may that system be a business, an organization, a machine, or a certain procedure, has different rules by which the performance is measured. The first rule is that the expert acts in competition with himself.


4. To provide leadership. These days, everybody wants to be a leader, like it would be some hype thing. The leaders inspire individuals to do something which makes them better (then they were in the first place, no competition with others). They are aware of all the influences, systems, and strategies that are working in a complex world and they place their mark in a very subtle way. Competition between leaders is measured by their influence and the results of those influenced. Such leaders don’t really care about competition, but about making a change. Their competition is not only with themselves but also with all the challenges which fade those who follow him.

Now… I think it is fair to say that any real purpose of competitive thinking falls within one of these categories. Now, to prove that critical thinking is a skill that can be developed independently, I will give you for each of these four categories four examples of (mis)use of critical thinking.

(keep reading ↓)


1. The strategists who provide quality. 

Good use of critical thinking: analyses logically and structurally the reality with relevant instruments; designs the criteria for improvement; good intrapersonal communication; willingness to criticize oneself;   applying creative methodology; use of multidimensional analysis; use of multiple perspectives and points of view; translates the data into procedures for each one’s understanding; reconfigures the production of products / delivering of services to increase the efficiency; replicates the factors for success; cuts the losses; re-adjusts the cashflow; determining the best solutions; (sometimes) reverse engineering; creatively matching demand with offer; project managing; project writing.

Bad use of critical thinking: analyses the reality with affordable instruments; finds the cheapest supplier; determines and assumes the cost of destroying and exploiting the resources used in providing the products/resources; relocates to markets with higher needs; re-adjusts the human resources; (sometimes) reverse engineering.

No use of critical thinking: corruption; bribery; transforming workers into slaves; destroying natural resources for rapid profits; deceives the audiences.

Alternative use of critical thinking in cooperative thinking: crowdsourcing; crowdfunding; determining which are the negative effects of striving for performance and increasing it through Corporate Social Responsibility; creating a measurable difference for the human resources involved in delivering the products/services; determining and using the key factors of improving motivation at the workplace; designing teams which work together; replacing key psychological aspects which make things better; mentoring; coaching; raising awareness;  identifying prejudice, bias, propaganda, self-deception, distortion, misinformation.

 (keep reading ↓)


2. The wannabe-significants.

Good use of critical thinking: determine the best channels and intervals for self-expression; logically argue critical issues which may expose others’ services/products/ideas as lesser options; getting others to recommend you with arguments; identifies own strong points and prioritizes to enhance them; identifies own weak points and prioritizes to reframe them; uses language with accuracy; creates positive associations which favorize him; being determined of being the best you can be, for yourself.

Bad use of critical thinking: depict the weak points of the competitors and hit them; re-interpret and arrange the data to better suit you; proving the others are less smart than you are; intentionally creating embarrassing moments for the competitor; attacking someone’s credibility.

No use of critical thinking: feeling attacked by someone else’s intelligence; failure to self-evaluate; trashing the competitors without any strategy; stealing the position by cheating; criticizing others just to pass the time and/or feel better about yourself; wanting the neighbor’s goat because you don’t have one (envy, in Romanian invidie); feeling spite (in Romanian ciudă) for the fact that your neighbor keeps on maliciously reminding you how beautiful is his goat and how inexistent is yours; holding a grudge (in Romanian pizmă) on you neighbor by wishing his goat to die; hate the neighbor and wish him and his goat and his whole family to die.

Alternative use of critical thinking in cooperative thinking:

Choosing what family members and close acquaintances to have around for support; identifying the goals for which it’s worth to trust collaborators.


3. The rare experts. 

Good use of critical thinking: evaluating the in-house resources and reconfiguring assignments within; patterning the dynamics of the system; analyzing the complexity through a mix of conflicting truths; identifies the optimum functionality; runs meta-analyses; providing persuading demonstrations; identifying key actors to influence; managing flexibility and open systems; creating frameworks of interpreting data; draws warranted conclusions and generalizations; diagnoses the differences that make the differences and re-configures the system; self-improving by attacking self-diagnosed faults with practical counter-measures; self-efficacy; offers independence; aligning conflicting alternatives; designing creative methodology; supervises mergers & acquisitions; project writing; enforcing discipline; (sometimes) supervising/developing matrix organizations.

Bad use of critical thinking: overanalyzing; using limited frames of references in analyzing a system, especially concerning the risks; delivers powerful systems to be used in unethical manners; creates dependence; overwhelming oneself with the power of the role, of the position; overlooking a self-replicating problem by misprioritization.

No use of critical thinking: All experts must use critical thinking. At this level, critical thinking is inherent and is mostly targeted towards wisdom.

Alternative use of critical thinking in cooperative thinking: designing a team of experts; designing self-sustaining communities; creating mechanisms of win-win-win (everybody wins, even those not explicitly involved); designing new frames of references; developing new technology generations; designing operating systems (and I am not referring to Windows vs. Open Source);  communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.


4. The transformational leaders

Good use of critical thinking: lateral thinking; inter-disciplinary expertizes; re-establishing order at markets level; re-designing general standards; inspires the best use of natural resources; argues for the purpose-driven mission of the groups/teams/organizations; inspires others to develop their potential as leaders; reflective thinking; inspiring self-efficacy to others; subtly influencing group decision making; project framework designing; inspiring experts; (sometimes) changing modal operator; inspires the willingness to serve the entire system.

Bad use of critical thinking: being negatively influential; supporting utopias; (sometimes) changing modal operator; attaching spiritual signification to economic activities; unethical using of conflict management; enhancing non-epistemological philosophy; creating dependence on technology; re-shaping the comprehension of symbols; placing the system as more important than the individual; using power over people.

No use of critical thinking: All leaders must use critical thinking. At this level, critical thinking is inherent and is mostly targeted towards wisdom.

Alternative use of critical thinking in cooperative thinking: engineers relationships between cultures; mediates & negotiates in international conflicts; using power with people.

It is my hope to convince you, through my intuitive article, that the (mis)use of critical thinking (and lack thereof) is independent of competitive vs. cooperative thinking. I also hope it will be an attention-grabber for the purposes you use competitive thinking for.

Marcus Victor Grant

Copyright © Marcus Victor Grant, 2012-present

4 thoughts on “The Difference Between Critical Thinking and Competitive Thinking

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