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Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing…

Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing (original 2013; edition 2013)

by Po Bronson, Ashley Merryman

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1055164,458 (3.5)None
Title:Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing
Authors:Po Bronson
Other authors:Ashley Merryman
Info:Twelve (2013), Hardcover, 352 pages
Collections:Business Best Sellers

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Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing by Po Bronson (2013)



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Showing 5 of 5
I am not convinced.

To oversimplify: the authors of this book divide people into two groups, each with two subgroups. One group likes to compete, the other doesn't. Since the first is mostly men and the second mostly women, they exist in roughly equal proportions in the population. The subgroups of the Competitors are the Honest competitors and the Win-at-any-cost competitors. The subgroups of the Non-competitors are the those who succeed if forced into competition and those who fail.

I'm willing to accept their four groups as a tentative hypothesis (though I've given them "classificatory" names rather than the names they use, such as "Warriors" and "Worriers"). They offer some pretty good data that there are such groups. But now I'm going to rename those four groups....
Honest Competitors: Competitors who build things up
Win-at-all-costs Competitors: Jerks
Successful Non-competitors: Cooperators
Unsuccessful Non-competitors: Failures.

Based on what the authors say (and here I don't consider their data as good), the Honest Competitors add the most to society. The Cooperators are next. The Failures contribute nothing but don't impose much cost on society. And the Jerks give us wars, financial crises, racial discrimination, sexual prejudice, crime, sexual abuse, and so forth.

So: Suppose we can push people to become either Competitors or Non-competitors, but can't determine in advance which subgroup they will belong to. Which is what it sounds like to me. Which is better, to produce Competitors or Non-competitors? If you produce all Competitors, you'll have Honest Competitors building things up and Jerks tearing things down. If you produce all Non-competitors, you'll have Cooperators building things up (if not as effectively as if you had a society of Honest Competitors) and you'd have Failures, well, failing -- but not doing any harm.

The authors assert that the payoff for producing maximum Competitors is higher than that for producing maximum Non-competitors. This is where the problem comes in. Have they proved this? I'm definitely a Non-competitor, and it didn't seem so to me; when I apply utility theory, it sure looks like Non-competitors win. I suspect that a Competitor would say that they did prove it. The "winner" is in the mind of the beholder.

So who is right? Well, here's an interesting thought: If either Competitors or Non-competitors had a fundamental advantage, evolution would favor it and the other sort would die out. We still have Competitors and Non-competitors. Which argues that Competitors aren't overwhelming the opposition nearly as much as this book suggests.... ( )
  waltzmn | Jan 10, 2018 |
Hmm. A lot of different research areas and claims about women’s reactions versus men’s reactions that usually lose the appropriate overlapping bell curve limitations. They identify people as Warriors (perform well in the face of threat; good in a pinch but can overlook things/not plan longer term) and Worriers (can do really badly faced with an unfamiliar threat, but good at planning, and facing a familiar challenge can outperform Warriors because they practice). Again, it felt like some discussion of spectra was missing; I’m pretty damn competitive and I didn’t see myself in either of those descriptions. Fact I didn’t know: if you’re on a team, increased testosterone increases cooperation with teammates, not competitiveness with them—testosterone seems to increase motivation to do whatever’s socially rewarded in a situation, not “aggression.” I was also left unconvinced by the claim that sports provide a model for democracy, because the rules are in the open and thus people see what “fair play” is and also feel outrage when the rules are violated, which is why the Greeks had the Olympics and democracy. While I accept that corruption in one area of society may influence others, I find it hard to tell a causal narrative. ( )
  rivkat | May 9, 2015 |
Interesting case studies cited and some surprises about the effects of competition on people. Gets bogged down in a few spots, but still worth the read. ( )
  VGAHarris | Jan 19, 2015 |
This is probably my own fault for reading a book about a subject that I'm not interested in, but I've liked previous articles by these authors and decided to give it a shot. My conclusion is that I'm still not interested.

The book is about competitiveness, and how it can positively impact performance across a number of fields. The deal with this author is that he's one of those pop science writers who reads the research, and then gives you the headlines in an easy to digest way. This is a fine approach, but it wasn't enough to make me care about this topic.

One annoying thing, though, is that in summarizing the research, he omits a lot of steps. Again, this is a good policy, otherwise it would be like reading a stack of abstracts, and who wants to do that? Nobody. I know of what I speak, because I used to have to do that for work. I know it sounds like what could be better, getting paid to read about interesting research -- but in reality, there was a time crunch and it's dense stuff to have to read and report out on. ANYWAY, so what will happen is that he'll describe a research study, and then by the end, the details or numbers don't exactly match up. The point of the findings is still there, but it bothered me that the authors/editors didn't try to make this smoother.

The shtick is that the research reveals things about competition that are counter-intuitive to what we might think ... but I don't know, man. I think that assumes a lot about what I think. Some of the big zingers didn't seem that unusual.

In case you're wondering, major points include:
- brain chemistry determines a lot about an individual's response to the stress of competitive situations
- individuals can learn to better manage competitive situations
- I think that might be all the take-aways. I thought this would be a longer list. ( )
  delphica | Sep 5, 2013 |
Fascinating look at competition, how nature and nurture combined make us competitive or not. Individuals vary widely in how they respond to competition was a central point in the book. The science and psychology behind this was very interesting. ( )
  ladyoflorien | May 20, 2013 |
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Merryman, Ashleymain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Studying competitive arenas from the workplace, the stock market, sport, politics, the military and schools and using the latest findings in genetics, neuroscience and behavioral psychology, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman unveil the astounding, often counter-intuitive truths about how we compete and the crucial ingredients that sometimes stand between winning and losing.… (more)

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