Today Show vs. GMA: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

FORTUNE — Pick any hot topic over the past decade or two – tax policy, Social Security, nuclear power, American Idol, you name it – and if you put a dozen people in a room, you’d get a cacophony of opinions.

But ask those same people, “So, what morning show do you watch?” and you’d just as likely get one big chorus back, saying, “Today, of course!”

The Today Show’s ratings domination is legendary.

Actually, make that “was” legendary. During the week of Apr. 9, the program drew 13,000 fewer viewers than its longtime (and formerly distant) rival Good Morning America. The loss, as was so gaspingly reported, broke Today’s epic 852-week winning streak.

To which we say, “What a lucky break!”

No – not for GMA, but for Today, because its loss means something very exciting is about to happen. The show is about to start experiencing business as it should always be experienced by every organization: as if each and every day were the last quarter of the Super Bowl.

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Gordon Gekko famously proclaimed greed to be the central tenet of business. What tripe. The real, galvanizing truism about business is that competition is good. In fact, it’s great.

Look, competition is what makes work more than clocking hours and turns it into something powerfully exhilarating, something about pushing harder, reaching farther and building the future. How? By making companies think smarter, run faster, and operate more sharply. By driving teams to coalesce and getting people to share ideas across all sorts of boundaries. By sparking innovation in everything from product design to process engineering.

But perhaps best of all, competition transforms work because it takes people’s focus off the Byzantine internal workings of a company – who’s got the bigger cubicle, who went to lunch with the boss on Tuesday – and puts it where it belongs, on the external world of customers and market dynamics. It replaces the all-too-human proclivity for office politics with a much more productive fixation on results, as in, “Let’s promote that new guy Sam right away. Sure he’s a little rough around the edges, but the customers adore him.”

Competition, you see, is all about having the guts to make status-quo-busting decisions on a daily basis. It’s about playing as though you’re not winning even if you are. Yes, that’s hard, especially when your numbers are all right. And especially when you’ve been comfortable for a good long while. But if you ever hear yourself saying something like, “We’ve got things under control,” slap yourself. If you don’t operate in a heightened state of paranoia about even the competitive threats you cannot yet see and don’t want to imagine, you’re asking to decay, or worse, to be demolished. Just ask RIM (RIMM), Nokia (NOK), Circuit City, Sony (SNE), and Best Buy (BBY).

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Of course, it practically goes without saying that the biggest beneficiaries of heightened competition are consumers. When companies are trying to outdo each other, obviously the customer experiences the upside of the fray. (Indeed, to see the reverse of this theory in action, all you have to do is visit your local DMV to witness the mind-numbing effects of monopolies in action, so to speak.) The good news is, when consumers win, so do many of the companies creatively competing to serve them. It’s the ultimate virtuous economic circle.

So, sure, the people on the Today team must have felt disappointed when their winning streak hit a wall. But to repeat, we’re excited for them. We’re excited for any company that gets to experience that kind of exhilaration – and the flat-out fun that a good competitive fight brings to the game of business.

And like millions of other customers, we can’t wait to enjoy the results.


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