comp_arrousal.jpgFor a staid business publication, the phrase sounds much too…exotic?

But there it was, competitive arousal, in the first paragraph of a May 2008 Harvard Business Review article, “When Winning is Everything.”

Competitive arousal? In the Fortune 500 boardrooms of America? I thought at that rarified level it was all cool, cold analytics. Machine-like MBAs making hyper-rational decisions backed up by squads of geeks pounding out line after line of infallible computer models.

Competitive arousal is defined by HBS as “an adrenaline-fueled emotional state…where the primal urge to win often overwhelms rational decision making…. When managers and executives…shift their goals from maximizing value to beating the competition at almost any cost.”

For this shareholders pay the big bucks?

Three key factors contribute to create competitive arousal:

– Rivalry

– Time pressure

– The spotlight (the “presence of an audience, particularly one that’s highly engaged and in a position to pass judgement,” such as the press, one’s peers, shareholders.)

The HBS article lists commonsense ways to avoid falling prey to competitive arousal. But if only common sense were common practice. The article talks about the tendency to blow past pre-set “limits” at auctions, i.e. the limits are not really limits. The problem is not the knowing but the doing!

The take home of the article for me was that we all are humans with emotional needs and drives that unchecked and uncontrolled can warp our thinking and lead to “What was I thinking?” moments.

Master your emotions or they will master you.