Conflict: First Thoughts

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It is hard to imagine a suite of notions more institutionalized, and unchallenged than those surrounding conflict.

Biologists speak of the “fight or flight reflex,” when even a superficial examination of animal relations would indicate that eating and mating take precedence over either of those prime considerations (while simply ignoring others is likely the most common behaviour pattern).

We are quite ready to draw on assumptions from the Animal Kingdom that justify certain views. “Animals compete for scarce resources,” they say. “Survival of the fittest,” they say. These assumptions are flawed. A lion is not in competition with other lions. A lion does what a lion does. He does not make judgments based on what his “competitors” are doing. He does not dream and scheme for the elimination of other lions. And interestingly, there are not rich lions and poor lions. There are only living lions and dead lions. Lions do not expend energy on activities that do not serve their own, and their species’ survival. They would seem to inherently understand that conflict among their colleagues would not enhance their survival chances. If only humans could come to a similar conclusion.

Moving to the human domain, we are continually reminded that “many, and perhaps most technological advances are a consequence of war.” What nonsense. Aside from the assumption that technological advances are automatically beneficial we need to look very closely at just what “advances” are being spoken of. Are drones beneficial to our species?

In the business world management usually accepts without question that innovation and economic gain emerge from “creative conflict” between individuals, departments and regions. Externally, competition for market share and increased return on investment is supposed to, in some Darwinnian way, ensure and prove that the most fit succeed, and the less fit fall by the wayside.

Personally, I have seen no research that looks at fundamental benefits of conflict and competition. Common wisdom holds both are beneficial, until such time as matters get out of hand. Our academic and professional interest then awakens. As a result, we know far more, for example, about how to reconcile marital differences than we know about how couples can build better and more sustainable relationships. We know far more about nuclear deterrence than we do about the role that honesty can play in diplomatic relations.

Why is the social and business first inclination not towards collaboration? Why we are not developing a culture in education and athletics that features personal, group and inter-group achievement (as opposed to “winning” over “losers”)? Why do we seem utterly unable to apply a net cost / benefit analysis to events that involve huge expenditures without the gains not being evident?

Actually, 2300 years ago the tiny state of Qin in pre-China did come to that conclusion. And have made those conclusions, Qin went on to end war among the Warring States and found the Chinese empire. Perhaps we should be re-visiting those deliberations and conclusions. For more on this subject, go to:


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Interested in managing without conflict – in your personal and professional life? Or do you think that conflict and competition are just the normal way of doing business? How about war? Do you believe it is inevitable?


I have quite different views on what most people assume is normal, inevitable and unavoidable. I’ve done extensive research that suggests that we humans – are far more driven by what we believe than what is fact than any of us would like to admit. I am quite sure that there are ways we can improve our life condition. And one key element in that life condition is moving on from being in a constant state of war.

Here’s my book on the way to peace.


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