The Thrill of Competition and Trying Harder

The question has often been asked, are men more competitive than women? It seems reasonable to believe that generally we are competitive in different areas. Certainly living in different cultures affects our competitive nature. Competition can be defined as related to risk-taking, tendency to choke, versus collaboration etc. Attempts at scientific analysis of the topic are still controversial. There is an oft-quoted 2005 academic study by Muriel Niederle and Lise Vesterlund, this recent attempt from Melissa Lafsky at The New York Times, one on Choking from Slate and a comment from Kate Minaker on the WorldWinner on-line gaming survey.

From my personal experience, I have seen more thrill of competition in men than women.
This does not mean that women cannot be successful. Women can be and are very effective and successful. Amongst women executives I know well, it is more about personal excellence and doing our best and less about the thrill of competition. Personally, I enjoy winning a tennis game, but mostly I enjoy playing well. Watching men play tennis, for most it appears to be crucially important to win, even in the most casual of settings.

This is also a generalization but it seems to me that women try harder than men. We are the Avis of the sexes. This was the shared opinion of my Women on Top Japan group. Certainly for me, mastering Japanese after the age of 30 took a lot of “trying hard.”

When I am trying to accomplish something I have an “it’s never over till it’s” over attitude but I am only competing with a situation not with another individual.

Why are we different? Could it be linked to our hunter/gatherer beginnings?

The Rohit Bhargava Crowdsourcing Blogger Interview Contest
As many of you know, I participated in a blogger interview contest run by Rohit Bhargava who is using various types of crowdsourcing to promote his new book, Personality Not Included (PNI). Shashi Bellamkonda, one of my first TwitterBuds and a great supporter, suggested that I participate. He assured me that Rohit was worthy of the effort. I was pleased to be one of the 12 finalist interviews that Rohit selected from the 55 submitted when he set up the voting process. He presented the winners here.

Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to come to my blog, read my interview and vote for me.

Rohit’s BrainStorming Breakfast
On April 5, following the Blogger Social launch night fest ending 3AM, Rohit gathered us at 9:30 AM to brainstorm follow-on promotional strategies for PNI. Women outweighed men in the gender ratio of those willing to drag themselves out of bed and keep their commitment to attend.

PNI Brainstorming Breakfast April 5

The Opportunity to Bring People to My Blog
I used this contest as an opportunity to introduce my new blog to friends I had not yet mentioned it to. I sent e-mails to some of my network in Japan, mostly those on LinkedIn and my Women on Top Japan group. I appealed to the network of Single Life Authors that I had developed for Singelringen. I also wrote to some of my Facebook friends. Finally I wrote to my Twitter Friends. As Blogger Social drew near I made new TwitterBuds with the participants. I included those that had followed me back. My message basically said: ‘Could you please read my interview and consider voting for me?’ As you might guess, jumping to a blog, scanning an interview and voting is something that TwitterBuds are most willing to do. For the average person, this is a big deal request, but on the other hand I was especially grateful for the comments from my non-Twitter friends who took the time to figure out how to leave a comment on my contest post.

The Voting Results
At the beginning, on Tuesday, April 1st, when I found myself getting a respectable number of votes, I was happy. I had told my friends, ‘I just want to make a decent showing amongst these respected and well-networked bloggers.’ I was not surprised that the highly networked Connie Bensen made an early surge to 24% of the votes. I was tied for second place when I got on the plane in LA to go to Blogger Social NYC Thursday morning, April 3rd (I never expected this). I felt so grateful to each person who had voted for me. When I arrived in NYC at 5PM I was shocked to find I was in first place with 21%. I stayed in first place through the night.

Vote Apr 3 LS #1 6PM NYC

Competition is Like Crack?
In the morning of the final day of the contest, Friday, April 4th, I saw Jonny Goldstein’s “vote for me” avatar on Twitter and his Tweet saying, “@LindaSherman is a worthy competitor. It is going to be a long day” and I thought, “uh-oh.” Around noon Jonny suddenly surged from 19% to 34% and I thought, “that’s it, it’s over.” I hadn’t expected to win, so I was satisfied with a good showing. But after tasting a moment of special glory, I have to admit that falling to second place – with an unexpected voting gap like that – was rather a let-down. I had lunch with Shashi in NYC on the first day of the Blogger Social. Shashi happened to connect to Jonny Goldstein on the phone during lunch on another matter, and we thought it would be fun if I said “hello” to him. I said to Jonny, with honest intentions to save him some energy, ‘you can relax now, I am not spending any more time on this.’ I later saw him tweet, “I spoke on the phone to my ‘arch enemy’ Linda Sherman today.” Jonny wrote about “competition” several times including in his final summary of the process Jonny’s I won blog. He said, “As you can see, I poured quite a bit of energy into this contest. It reinforced for me the power of competition to drive engagement. It was like crack. I couldn’t stop.”


Shashi and Linda lunch Dec 4

Competition can be looked at as a useful marketing tool for crowdsourcing exercises. Voting for user generated videos, such as Doritos™ Crash the SuperBowl contest; or for American Idol, are examples of the many opportunities to make use of crowds to generate both content and voting activity that create traffic to your brand.

What do you think about the thrill of competition, trying harder, and how it applies to men and women?

Update: Vanessa Van Petten kindly offered to guest blog this post on her popular Teens Today blog bringing me new readers including Tim “The Fool Man” who made a comment well worth reading below. Actually all of the comments for this post are great, so please take a look.

About Linda Sherman

International, multicultural marketing pro, Linda brings a distinguished background of international subsidiary CEO/CMO to her Social Marketing expertise. These include CEO Club Med Japan, Barilla Japan and CMO Wal-Mart Japan. Managing Editor, Boomer Tech Talk, she is passionate about senior services including senior health care and housing. Linda Sherman has been featured and quoted in Forbes, The New York Times, Christian Monitor and other leading publications. She devised and implemented an innovative guerrilla-marketing plan for ZIMA in Japan that produced a lasting, profitable success.

Connect with Linda Sherman on Instagram, Threads and X @LindaSherman.


  1. First time commenter and glad to be here.

    I think in part in depends on the generation. I am a 60-something whose experiences tell him that men both are more competitive and try harder to win (instead of please) than women. That began to change with the feminist movement in the ’70s.

    That said, I find I have much more in common in terms of life attitudes with strong and outspoken feminists and women athletes of my generation than with most women from that period. And that comes through most in my competitiveness, my willingness to be passionate about my beliefs and my willingness to challenge other’s philosophies.

    That said, I also seem to relate well to both women and men who represent Gen X and Gen Y who carry the competitive gene.

    Roundabout short answer: I don’t know.

  2. I think men are more competitive in general because many of us use different metrics to define success than women do. I think guys are more inclined to go for material possessions, salary, etc, while women go for more emotional.

    Also I think that women by nature are more nurturing, and probably see competition as being potentially divisive, which goes against their nature as nurturers.

    Now if you are talking about a competition involving men AND women, I think it would probably be more important to the men to win. Again, my opinion, in general.

    BTW all this logic is a bit skewered if we are talking about the blogosphere, where all bloggers seem to be VERY competitive 😉 Interesting discussion Linda!

  3. I’m glad you competed, though I feel you truly saw it more as an opportunity to shine than a competition.

    On the question, being a man, our culture is all about the win, unless you beat the favorite, then it’s all about how you played. Men may be more naturally competitive, but I think rather we are more openly competitive. Men and women both desire to win, and drive for success. But I think men are more literal. If winning in a game is defined as the highest score, our culture steers men to assert that it is only a win if they get the highest score.

    As I’ve grown older, I try to define things against my goals for why I’m competing instead of winning or losing a competition. I think that if one is totally focused on the win, they are likely not focused on the quality of how they play. For instance, if I’m entering a chess tournament. I may not win the tournament, but if my expectations are more about gaining experience and enjoying the challenge, then I’ll be happy, even if I don’t win.

    Anyway, there is value in the effort, win or lose. The key is what you choose to walk away from this competition with; what are you take homes.


  4. I think the gender roles hold true to our stereotypes for the most part (odd subject since my post tomorrow is about gender roles, btw) and men are generally more competitive than women. But I think it’s an environmental/gender role thing, and not biological.

    What competitive men fear most is competitive women. Because when faced with one of those, we’re pretty much ensured we’re going to lose.

    Interesting post. Please join me tomorrow for mine on Femininity and Social Media!

  5. Well written. 2nd place… to be honest I think you were more gracious.

    And, we women sometimes are more gracious than men in my opinion.

    Maybe this is based on personality. I have worked with some “tiger shark” women in my career and am sure to encounter a few more.

    I like to think some women turn into competitive tigers because they lack confidence to just be. I also wonder if they think they need to be that way to match their perceived view of a man.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for competition and am very competitive myself. I personally like competition in good taste.

    In business you have to be very competitive to succeed. But, my personal philosophy is to be better at what you do than your competitors, focus on being the best and you will rise to the top naturally with time and relationship building.

    But being the best always means reinventing yourself, your business, your product and continuing the product lifecycle.

    Of course its still important to target your market and find a niche or a way of grabbing your customer’s attention.

    Its hard to say where the issue divides men and women. Some stereotypes (and even subconscious) I’m sure impact our own decision making as well as the decision making of a potential competitor.

    Maybe it would be interesting to look at how men compete differently when in competition with a woman instead of a man.

    Recently I have found many men in business very happy to share with me their business learnings and I wonder if this would happen so easily if I wasn’t a woman. We do have our advantages.

    Congratulations on your efforts.

  6. Fabio Fabris says

    This is a hot topic in Europe too: the issue ranges from the highly competitive and progressive women in Scandinavia to the more conservative and traditional ones in the Mediterranean. No wonder that Scandinavian corporations are amongst the most competitive worldwide!

    Irrespective of location, I find women more focussed and determined than men, but also capable of making more out of little means and information. ‘Trying harder’ and working in ‘overdrive’ mode, can generate the propulsive energy any corporation, small or big, needs to leap forward. Despite being on separate continents while working together at Barilla ( I was in Croatia, you were in Japan ) I do recall you ‘Trying harder’ to achieve results.

    Seen from a merely hetero-manly point of view, charm has its influence: I still prefer a tough female competitor to an equivalent male one…

    I suggest that the next topic you tackle should be: ‘Team building and Women as succesful team members’. There is not just mere competition in a corporation or a business environment, but also a team, men or women, pursuing the same goal. This is the real arena where – in my view – women display more talent and play a key role. This can be in a team or a family, a women is still a mother, a wife, a sister or a daughter.

  7. Thanks for your honesty here, Linda. It makes for a great and refreshing story.

    I think Mack gets at something when he talks about the “metrics” being different for men vs. women. Speaking very generally, which is always a dangerous thing (!), I think men are more aggressively competitive than women in business. But at the same time, lots of women I know outside of business are competitive in other ways — with their kids, or social status, or whatever…. again, speaking GENERALLY.

    In other words, I don’t think one sex is more competitive than the other. I think they are competitive in different arenas.

  8. Hi Linda,

    Congratulations on the great show in Rohit’s contest.

    On the question of whether men or women are more competitive as a gender, all I can say is that it depends, on the individual, as well as on the specific context.

    All the best for the new blog. 🙂

  9. I’d like to think there are real differences, but of course relativity is the theoretical norm. Among the variables I’ve read, it seems the propensity to be/act competitive will be based on:

    – Generation and age
    – Culture
    – Individual personality & Myers-Briggs orientation
    – Comfort with risk
    – Perceived difficulty
    – Rewards valuation

    That said, I would like to think women have become more competitive in many areas over the years, and has likely challenged many men’s security. However, I believe everything is in the mind and that assumptions, biases, and fear can cloud the mind from everyone’s true potential.

  10. Linda, great post, and great meeting you at Blogger Social too. With this competition, I was going to really plug it, and then I thought, “Wait, why am I going to work so hard to drive traffic to someone else’s site?” But, yes, getting that spirit going can go a long way, and Rohit’s work on this was pitch-perfect.

  11. LindaSherman says

    Thank you to everyone for a great discussion!

    @Lewis I love your conclusion, “I don’t know”. I don’t either.

    @Mack Thank you for bringing up that women are often more nurturing. Though I have met many nurturing men on Twitter, including You.

    @Todd Excellent interpretation of what I meant to say, you said it better.

    @Jason Worthwhile link to your blog discussion on gender and blogging
    Great discussion there

    @Susie I agree how we act has a lot to do with confidence. I remember the era when women thought they needed to wear masculine suits to succeed in business. Thank goodness now they realize they can look feminine and still succeed.

    @Fabio Thanks so much for your perspective from Europe.

    @Ann Great point about different arenas

    @Gaurav @Mario Certainly it depends on the individual. Mario – I wouldn’t like to say though that being competitive is related to reaching one’s full potential. IMO striving to do one’s best does not equal being competitive.

    @David Actually I made sure to drive the readers I contacted to my site. I specifically wrote “Please read my interview and consider voting for me” with the URL to my interview on my site. But I understand what you mean.

  12. Nice nice post!
    First of all, congratulations for the excellent showing.
    You just hit a very interesting topic for myself: competition. I believe the reason for the difference between men and women can be traced to very deeper levels and vary dramatically – who knows?
    Oftenly, talking to other males my age, we agree that we have all been raised to compete all the time in every possible situation, and sometimes we find it difficult to enjoy a situation because we are obsessed with measuring and competing and winning.
    I agree with Mack Collier.
    Anyway, if you think about it, even before we are born we are competing with millions of other spermatozoids for just one egg. Those cells have no gender yet. I believe it’s the same for both genders in the end: competition is human nature. Along the way I’ve found women as competitive as myself.
    Culturally, we are educated – I believe regardless of gender – to excell, to overachieve, to accumulate, to do things so that we can write it on our resumes.
    In my opinion, the increasingly difficult challenge for the younger generations, is to learn how to generate a healthy dose of competition, as is a great source of motivation.
    Do I prefer to compete against males or females? It doesn’t make any difference, I’ll compete to whoever claims to be the best, in the end as you say, we’re just competing against a situation, or against ourselves.

  13. I agree with much of what Jesús said.

    Coming from a personal history of flirting with variant gender expressions, I myself still choose to identify as ‘girl’ and ‘woman’ etc after these journeys, and to take on the weight of those implications from within the binary. That’s a competitive battle in itself.

    I think that there are, regardless of gender identities and sexual makeups, variant personalities in variant bodies–all influenced by whatever mass culture to which they belong.

    That is to say, I know I’m a dominant and aggressive personality, regardless of my XX. Thus, I aim to thrive in American culture, which rewards this. I would not do as well were I in some eastern cultures. Yet, the nurture argument stands:

    How much of this did I assimilate into my subconscious when I was young? Would I still be aggressive if I were raised in China or Iran? What is it about my family that enabled a girl to think she could be aggressive? Or is it simply that it’s in my makeup, like dictatorship? Haha, oh, I’m not saying I agree there, but it is an interesting link.

    I don’t care with whom I’m competing. Doing it well, doing it ethically, these are all components that are important to me. But the bottom line remains: do it. There is no disengagement.

    PS>> Linda, thank you for commenting on my blog and engaging in conversation with me.

  14. When considering whether women tend to be less competitive than men, I’d have to ask this- competitive in what?

    It’s been my observation that men tend to be more competitive in certain domains such as business/careers, sports, etc. while women tend to be more competitive in others such as parenting, appearances, etc. Also, men tend to be more open & upfront about it while women tend to be more sneaky & passive-aggressive about it.

    I don’t know how much of this is cultural and how much is hardwired into us. It’s likely some combination of both…

  15. Women are VERY competitive … I was going to make the same point that CrimsonWife made. Competitiveness isn’t always smiled upon in women, so we tend to shroud our competitive actions in diplomacy, compliments to the other people, trying to please everyone while getting ahead, etc.

    I’ve seen women get people fired while smiling to their face.

  16. Men are raised by the One-Up Mandate. They grow up in a hierarchical social order of 1 up/1 down. (To help you see the difference, we women are raised to think in terms of being alike, sharing equally, feeling uncomfortable if we have more than the other. When there is one last piece of cake, don’t you give it to the man or your guest, not take it for yourself?)
    As children, little boys are taught to win. Winning means overpowering someone else. If you don’t win, you are a loser. And, a winner never cries for the loser. So, fast forward several decades and you have a competitive man with little ability to be empathic.
    This one-up mandate shows up every day in simple things like — conversations with women. The man either has to get or keep the upper hand in a conversation – or he feels like a failure.
    Now, if a man is taught he has to be a winner at all costs, but he behaves in ways that he feels he is a loser (i.e., yelling at his wife, not knowing the answer to a question – especially about his feelings) he feels shamed – which makes him feel like a loser.
    So, men are shamed if they lose, but if they win, they must toughen themselves against the feelings of those they have made lose, and in relationships, that means women.
    I explore these ideas in more depth in my cd on Men! Are They Teachable? Should You Do It? Which you can get at
    I also cover it in my book With Or Without A Man: Single Women Taking Control Of Their Lives, which you can get on the same web site.

    And, if you want a freebie on Clues for Understanding Male-ese and Female-ese, go to the same web site, and on the right, click Special Offer, and use the Code: Clues.

    Dr. Karen Gail Lewis

  17. I voted for you because your questions were legitimately better.

    Look at it this way: the best movies are often not #1 at the box office. If you aren’t #1, who really cares if you are the one who actually creates something of value.

    Maybe one day the boys will figure it out. Who knows.

  18. Fascinating article.

    Years ago, I read an article about the differences in socialization strategies between men and women. The article focused in on the way we treat our personal space as a prime example.

    Men will typically try to determine a “pecking order” in most social groups, using whatever criteria seems appropriate for the setting. We establish this in our personal space by making it conducive to our strengths, and downplaying our weaknesses. As a result, if you c0me into “my space,” I will tend to have an immediate advantage. Similarly, we engage in competitive “sparring.” Whether it’s verbal jousting, worrying about driving a better car, or any number of other issues, we still find ways to present ourselves positively, always looking to determine how we “measure up.” (I’m ignoring the obvious joke here.)

    In sharp contrast, women tend towards “inclusive” behavior in the workplace. Desks tend to be arranged in a way that makes someone feel welcome, decorations (if any) establish a mood of comfort, and so on. Likewise, women are more likely to try to include someone new into a social situation, instead of chopping them down with verbal chainsaws the way men tend to do.

    Unfortunately, men tend to associate this kind of behavior from women as weakness, when it has nothing to do with strength. In turn, this can cause women to try to mimic male social behavior, which almost always earns the woman a negative label.

    My sisters, both of whom have had successful careers in corporate, male-dominated work environments, seem to have found a balance here. They behave as women, without any trace of masculinity, but few of their peers seem to regard this as weakness. Maybe someday they’ll share their secret with me. – Tim

  19. JustLindaSTL says

    When I read the title, before I even got into the article, my thought was “I mostly compete with myself, I try hard to achieve and surpass my own expectations.”  And then when I read, you seemed to have come to the same conclusion both through research and observation.
    I like a friendly competition.  When it gets ugly, I’d rather lose than engage in the ugliness, because winning is (generally) not that important to me.  Doing my best is very important to me, which coincidentally leads to many “wins”. 

  20. Thank you Linda! Do you see that it is the same for your daughters or do you think as someone here pointed out that more recent generations of women are more competitive?


  1. […] Strategy & Marketing at Ogilvy PR and author of Personality Not Included. I had the pleasure of participating in Rohit’s book launch and was delighted to capture him for this video interview at BlogWorld Expo in Las […]

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