- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Twelve; F First Edition edition (February 19, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1455515159
- ISBN-13: 978-1455515158
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 105 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #843,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing Hardcover – February 19, 2013
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Q&A with Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Q. Are you refuting the concept that it takes ten years of practice to get great at anything?
Po Bronson: Not at all, we feel our book is additive to that story. Nobody is judged on how they practice. They're judged on how they perform when it counts. Practicing is not the same as competing. You can pitch a million baseballs to your son until he perfects his swing--but wait until he faces a pitcher who wants him to miss. You might have ten years of experience in the advertising industry, but how do you handle the day your biggest client tells you they're leaving for a rival agency?
Ashley Merryman: The truth is, nobody puts in ten years before they start competing. The world doesn't work that way. We are all thrown into competitive situations, long before we've had enough practice. Our results are still judged; our fate is still determined by how we do. To survive these trials, we need more than practice. We need competitive fire.
Q. Did researching this book change how you each compete?
Ashley Merryman: I'm a girl. All my life, I've been told to "play nice." I heard it on the playground and then the grown-up version they say in boardrooms: women are better at coalition-building, not competing. The science says that's wrong. And it's not just about toughening up. Women are prone to weigh risks more carefully than men; when women are confident they have a good chance to succeed, they'll compete. Sometimes this is an asset (in certain domains), but sometimes it's a hindrance. I've learned to recognize when to tap into my gender's knack for risk-analysis, and when to ignore it.
Po Bronson: I didn't let many people know it, but before working on this book, I'd had a full-hip replacement and a few unsuccessful surgeries on my leg. I had many setbacks during rehab; I could barely walk at times. This affected every dimension of my life--it sapped my energy for my writing work and my volunteer projects. I was just losing my edge and my will to fight. Researching the book inspired me; it reminded me who I am. It restored my zeal for attacking big challenges. I hope the book does that for readers, first and foremost: gets them eager to surmount the challenges in their lives.
Q. Everyone says that companies must innovate to remain competitive--but does it work the other way around? Doesn't competition destroy creativity?
Po Bronson: There is a belief that creative genius is fragile and needs to be shielded from competition and comparison. But the research says that's a myth. Leonardo da Vinci loved to have his art put side by side with the work of others for debate over whose was best; Bach, too, liked to compete against other musicians in public concerts. Chemical fire extinguishers, food canning, transcontinental air travel--each began as the prize winner of a competition. Competition doesn't kill creativity: it facilitates creative output by supplying motivational drive.
Ashley Merryman: Whether professional musicians or school children, studies have shown competition fuels creativity and even improves the quality of the work produced. More than that, the skills that make you a great competitor--such as a willingness to push boundaries, trust one's instincts, problem-solve--those are the same skills needed for innovation.
Bronson and Merryman follow up the best-selling NurtureShock (2009) with this intriguing look at the nature of competition. Most of us are taught from an early age that it’s good to be competitive, but we’re not usually taught how to compete. Sure, we can learn how to play a sport, and we can practice the skills, but practicing is not the same as competing. You can perfect your baseball swing in practice, but how do you react when you’re facing a pitcher who wants you to miss? The key element of competition, the authors say, is the ability to compete under pressure in situations that are not under one’s own control. Using plenty of real-world examples, from Olympic athletes to fighter pilots to intelligence operatives, the authors persuasively argue that technical skill is only one part—in many cases, the least important part—of what it takes to come out on top. Expect lots of talk-show play for this one. --David Pitt
Top customer reviews
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The nice thing about the authors is they are basing their book off of countless scientific studies. You don't get a lot of trite statements or colloquialisms. The authors are good at taking the evidence of these studies and creating a compelling story.
In the end, I learned several things about the differences between men and women in terms of competition, anxiety levels in competitors, playing not to lose, etc. I just wish there was more coverage on teams and the inner dynamics of winning teams.
Well written. Well researched. A good solid read.
Having said all this, I still easily recommend this book for people who are curious about what makes people perform well.
First, the basics of how stress and our reaction to it work. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that produces adrenaline, the body's way of contfronting on stressful situations. COMT is an enzyme that degrades dopamine. People's bodies produce varying levels of dopamine, low dopamine levels leading to an overall competition-avoiding personality, etc. These two 'work together' to determine how a person will react to stress and competition. If your body produces a lot of dopamine naturally, but also produces a high level of COMT (to degrade the dopamine), you may handle stress and competition quite well. If you produce the same high level of dopamine but have a low level of COMT (meaning less dopamine is degraded), you may end up being the type who gets stressed very easily, "overreacting" to mildly stressful situations. Low dopamine levels and high COMT may produce someone who doesn't react strongly enough in stressful or competitive situations. Etc.
But the book also talks about the differences in how men and women generally compete. Conventional wisdom tends to say that women aren't very competitive naturally (and those who are have simply learned to get on in a man's competitive world. But like much common wisdom, there is only a grain of truth to this. Pouring over studies of behavior and neuroscience, the authors make a case that women are as competitive as men, but simply are more judicious about when they enter competition.... generally when they believe they have a realistic chance of winning. Women, in other words, look at the odds of whether they have a chance to win, and if they think they do, they compete every bit as hard as men. Men, on the other hand, tend to place more emphasis on what they would gain if they did win (than what their chances are of winning). The authors do refrain from suggesting that one strategy is better than the other; in fact, both strategies may have evolved because they have survival value in different contexts. But they do give some surprising stats showing, for instance, that women investors and money managers have a better track record with their somewhat more conservative strategy than men, who frequently make riskier investment choices.
There are some other great challenges to the conventional wisdom here. Foremost is a reassessment of what testosterone and oxytocin are and do. For a long time, scientists told us that testosterone was simply the "aggression drug" and that oxytocin is the "care/empathy drug." It turns out that things are quite a bit more complicated than this. Studies are showing that testosterone can not only increase one's aggression, but increase allegiance with a group when that group is in competition with another group. (Soccor players with high levels of testosterone seem more likely to do things like pass the ball and assist so that team mates can score.) Similarly, oxytocin does not just increase care and empathy, but care and empathy toward those in one's in-group (it also increases aggression against those in the out-group).
Lastly, I think an overall message we should take from the book is that competition is not necessarily the bad, intrinsic-motivation-killing, thing (especially when kids are concerned) that we have been told it is by the "self-esteem movement." Yes, some people do not thrive, but wither, when they are faced with competitive situations. But most actually do better when they compete either against themselves or others. Kids who compete often learn to care more about the activity they are doing (sport, music, etc) than those who do not compete at those same activities. Competition also helps people learn to deal with being in stressful situations, both at how to be successful in them AND cope with lack of success. (Of course, they are also careful to acknowledge that healthy competition has necessary conditions, like competitors being mindful of sticking to rules of fair play, and the competition being designed so that competitors believe it to be a fair fight.)
Overall, this book was very interesting to read. While written in a easy-going style, there is much information here, and those wanting to look at the more scholarly literature will find a large section of citations pointing them to articles they can pursue further. Teacher, parents, company executives, and just the generally interested lay public should all be able to find something in this book that can help them understand why and how we (should) compete.