Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

2 minute read


The Envy Effect: How Friendly Competition Spurs Innovation

Think all the banter on Twitter and in blog comments is for naught? Here's how social envy and the competition of ideas it generates will lead to faster innovation.

The Envy Effect: How Friendly Competition Spurs Innovation


Jason Fidler has posted a very interesting rebuttal to my recent blog post on the envy effect. I originally argued that the e-social revolution will likely lead to more competition among people, because increasing transparency makes it easier to compare attributes.

Fidler suggests my argument is flawed because competition for pay (and other things in the economic world) is based on actual transparency, while competition for social media dominance is based on "selective" transparency. In other words, we are transparent in social media only to the point we permit ourselves to be, choosing either to disclose or not to disclose different personal attributes.

Moreover, he says, the economic comparisons required by the SEC led to actual improvements in CEO pay, while "it is safe to assume that few have truly better personal lives because of their activity on social networks."

I definitely agree that we can usually choose what things we disclose to others in social media. Of course, once we’ve made the choice, it’s not possible to reverse it. You can’t take it back. As one blogger famously said, "Dude, you can’t take something off the internet. That’s like trying to take pee out of a swimming pool."

But as to whether the competitive urge is or is not stimulated by social media, I stand my ground.

If social media didn’t stimulate the competitive juices, then what could possibly have motivated a rebuttal?

The back-and-forth between my initial post and the responses, along with the associated tweets and other status updates, is nothing more than a competition of ideas as we collectively wrestle to the ground a somewhat tricky analogy between the economic domain and the social domain.

On the other hand, Fidler’s thoughtful perspective highlights something very useful about envy itself.

Scientists think that human beings probably evolved to feel envy because those who most carefully observed the traits and actions of other, more successful people were able to to imitate them and thus to be more successful themselves.

So if the e-social revolution does, in fact, allow people to make faster and more detailed comparisons of their own thoughts and perspectives with those of others (just like Fidler’s take on my original post), then social envy and the competition of ideas that it generates will lead to faster innovation.

A more envious species will be a more innovative species, because success will be copied and imitated faster, and good ideas will be more quickly improved.

For more leadership coverage, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

[Image provided by ShutterStock] 

The Fast Company Innovation Festival