The four terms competition, battle, fight, and conflict are used interchangeably in casual conversation, but we require more precise definitions to use strategy in practical ways in our everyday lives. We must understand what is necessary and what is not.
Competition is the comparison of alternatives among positions of opponents.
Battle is a meeting of potential opponents where those positions are compared and a choice is made
Fighting is expending resources to advance or defend a position. We might call this overcoming a challenge.
Conflict is the attempt to damage our opposition so we can take their position. Conflict is a meeting, i.e, a battle, that requires resources, i.e, a fight, but it has the specific goal of hurting the position of others so that we rise in any comparisons with them. It is often described as “taking the position of another.” The most costly way of advancing a position is conflict because it necessarily is opposed by another who has a very similar amount of resources for the fight.
Conflict defines wars of attrition. In such wars, the party that sustains the least damage is the technical winner. The problem is that, according to the economics of competition, both parties in a conflict are much more likely to be losers in the long term. These Pyrrhic victories occur when winning the battle costs us our success over the longer term. These "victories" cost much more than any benefit that we can ever hope to win from them.
We avoid conflict not out of altruism but for a pragmatic reason: success is much more likely without costly conflict. Strategy is the economics of advancing our position. In the economics of improving our positions in the minds of others, conflict is simply too costly. When competition is properly understood as a comparison, we seek to advance our position while avoiding all the costs of conflict. We do not have to damage our opponents in order to come out on top in a comparison with them. The ideal position is one that others do not want to attack and ideally want to join. Correctly understood, competition embraces cooperation because allies support our position. Conflict, not competition, is the opposite of cooperation.
Our strategy is to fight through opportunities to improve our positions so that we can win battles while avoiding conflict.
All competition requires battles.
Since all competition is a comparison, such meetings are eventually necessary. By this definition, every buying decision and sporting event is a battle, a situation where alternatives are compared.
Both advancing and defending our positions require various types of fights.
In other words, we must always use resources to overcome challenges. Battles are just one type of fight. There are many types of fights such as overcoming barriers in moving to a new position. Facing challenges and the use of resources are equally unavoidable.
All conflict is the result of a miscalculation.
Conflict doesn't occur unless both parties think they can triumph. Opponents will always surrender or evade a battle rather than enter into a costly conflict that they know that they will certainly lose. The problem is that, because of our limited information, we naturally overestimate our own advantages and underestimate those of our opponents.
Conflict is always unnecessary.
There is an infinite number of opportunities that exist as unfilled positions that can improve our positions in the minds of others. Conflict results from the mistake of zero-sum thinking, that we can only advance our position by taking someone else's position away. But real life is never a zero-sum game. The environment is continually creating new opportunities.
Conflict always creates costs.
The specific problem with our trying to damage opponents is that opponents must defend themselves. When two opponents fight each other, both are diminished by the effort, losing resources that could be better utilized by finding other ways to advance their positions. Both positions are damaged, creating opportunities for others competitors outside of the conflict. Since defending a position is always less expensive than attacking it, this is the most costly way of trying to advance a position.
We cannot avoid life’s battles. We are always being compared to others as long as we are involved in the choices of others. Competition is a comparison. We cannot avoid fighting. We must all use resources to improve our lives. However, we must always seek to avoid conflict, that is, creating enemies by trying to damage their positions.