Blog Post

Is Competition a Numbers Game?

I read about a study over the weekend that suggests the number of competitors can impact our motivation to compete. The researchers found that with a small number of competitors, people had increased motivation to compete, but even with equal chances of success, our motivation can drop when we are faced with large numbers of competitors.

“The simple act of comparing yourself against someone else can stoke the fires of competition. When there are just a few competitors around, making such comparisons is easy but they become more difficult when challengers are plentiful. As a result, the presence of extra contenders, far from spurring us on by adding extra challenge, can actually have the opposite effect. Garcia and Avishalom call this the “N-effect” and they demonstrated it through a number of experiments.” – Ed Yong

Photo by nicolai36*

Many of us are freelance consultants, and I chose to go the freelance route before the economy took a turn for the worse. In the past few months, I’ve seen more and more people being laid off as a result of corporate downsizing or startups that have closed their doors under the current economic pressures. With full-time gigs becoming more and more difficult to find, many of these people are turning to freelancing and consulting to pay the bills while they continue their search for another full-time job. In a previous post about unemployment, the economic downturn, and web working, I talked a little more about this trend with a few numbers to back up my assumptions.

I’m starting to wonder about the impact of this new influx of freelancers. On the one hand, it seems like more companies are turning to freelancers to fill the gaps in their workforce during hiring freezes, but on the other, any large changes in a market are likely to have unanticipated side effects. After reading the study about motivation, I wonder how these new entrants will impact motivation to compete for freelancing jobs. More companies hiring freelancers could potentially drain motivation even if the chances of getting the contract are the same; however, I suspect that the number of people freelancing is probably exceeding the increase in freelancing jobs thus resulting in more competition and a reduced chance of success.

Keep in mind that the study was looking at motivation in student settings, not careers or job motivation, so the idea that the results may apply to freelancers competing for jobs is speculative, though reasonable, but it has given me food for thought.

What changes have you noticed in the freelancing market as a result of the economic downturn? How does your perception of competition affect what contracts you bid on and how you bid?

Image by nikolai36 from flickr

5 Responses to “Is Competition a Numbers Game?”

  1. Guy,

    I can’t speak for all freelancers, but for most of my work, I focus on training people who can take over for me after I leave. When someone can’t hire an online community expert, I can step in to provide the expertise while also providing training and mentoring to the people who will eventually be providing this role within the company. I’m not a fan of the freelancing model of becoming so valuable that the company becomes beholden to the consultant.

    If I was on the other side as a company hiring a freelancer, I would make sure that I specify training and mentoring as part of the project.

    This approach works well with online community consulting, but may not work for all types of freelancing, especially those freelancers with highly technical or specialized niche areas of expertise.

  2. Dawn,

    I’m not a freelancer, but as a corporate consultant, I can sort of identify with some of these things.

    However, when reading your post above I was more struck by the fact that if corporations turn increasingly to freelancers, even with perfect knowledge management practices, they have the potential to lose valuable experience if the freelancer leaves, or they have to let them go.

    So, my question would be, from a corporate side, how do the businesses utilizing freelancers protect themselves from too much ‘brain drain’? Does the threat of this knowledge exodus actually bode well for the contract worker (in terms of a perceived ‘job security’)?