Competition. It’s what John D. Rockefeller once called “a sin.” It is diametrically opposite of cooperation, something Franklin D. Roosevelt said “begins where competition leaves off.”

By its simplest definition, competition arises when there are limited resources and two or more groups rely on those resources for their survival. It’s only natural that these groups would compete for control of those resources.

However, for as many examples there are of competition in nature, there is the same number for cooperation. Take, for instance, the human body-the respiratory, circulatory and central nervous systems all work in harmony to sustain us.

The business world also provides us with examples of both competition and cooperation. Companies compete in the same marketplace for the same customers, while those same companies work together with other entities in the supply chain to reach those same customers.

In the study of the human condition, a very revealing exercise on the ongoing struggle between competition and cooperation exists in the form of game theory. It is called the “prisoners’ dilemma” and it attempts to explain why two people might not cooperate, even if it is in their best interest:

“Two men are arrested, but the police do not possess enough evidence for a conviction. The two alleged criminals are separated and the police offer both the same deal-testify against the other and go free while the other does a year in prison. If both remain silent, both are sentenced to only one month in jail for a minor charge. If each ‘rats out’ the other, each receives a three-month sentence. Each prisoner must choose either to betray or remain silent; the decision of each is kept quiet. What should they do?”

What results, and what the police count on, is that both will choose to protect themselves at the expense of the other. As a result of following a purely logical thought process to help oneself, both would find themselves in a worse state than if they had cooperated with each other.

Yes, it’s hard to imagine, but it is possible that those people we see on reality TV just might not be able to help themselves.

So if it is in our very nature to compete, what can we take away from it? One thing is a better opportunity for comparison. Economists and financial markets have developed analytical tools that are useful in comparing stocks, companies and markets to determine the long-term strength of a given industry and the companies that compete in that industry. As consumers, we do it all the time. We “shop” or compare what the marketplace has to offer. We rely on competition to provide us with the choice that best meets our criteria, whether it’s price, quality or convenience.

This month’sQualityMagazine provides the very means to make that choice, with our annual Selector Guides. So whatever your criteria, take away the best that a competitive Quality market has to offer.

As always, enjoy and thanks for reading!