Are You a Fairy Princess?

Remember my daughter?

She is five, all blonde curly hair, giggles and she thinks she is a fairy princess.

This weekend she went to a birthday party.  A five-year-old girl’s birthday party.

It was a fancy dress party with a fairy princess theme — this is called knowing your audience.

The local church hall was packed full of fairy princesses, all resplendent in their pink dresses and fake wings. Nineteen little girls and a riot of pointed hats, magic wands and sparkly makeup.  Each little girl was fulfilling her dream, each little girl convinced that she was a real princess.

Until the competition began.

You can’t have a fancy dress party without a fancy dress competition

The girls paraded around the ring skipping and dancing, laughing and casting spells.

Of course choosing a winner was all a bit arbitrary, after all they were all wearing the same outfits from the same Disney store.  But you can’t have a fancy dress competition without a winner.

  • One little girl was delighted.
  • Sixteen more were silent.
  • Two were in tears.

One winner and eighteen  losers.  A fabulous way to end the party.

Not all competition is helpful

You might well have to compete against your competitors — the clue is in the name.

But arbitrary internal competition between departments and staff for status, pay rises and bonuses can have a whole host of unintended consequences.

After all, we all still like to think we are fairy princesses, even if we’re not.  Does criticism help?

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Fairy Princess

Read another opinion

Image by Thwip!


  1. James,
    You should have taken the princesses to the Frozen Sing Along. The magical bouncing snowflake would have kept everyone happy and singing the same tune.

  2. Natasha Stone says:

    This article makes a point that has been on my mind for a while, but have had a hard time articulating. Not all competition is useful! If it makes good employees feel unappreciated, it does more harm than good.

    Thank you, James!

  3. James,
    I wonder how many of the mothers and fathers of the losing princesses will have learnt the lesson and how many more competitions there will be in the coming year? Assuming that the competitions are not rigged and the birthday girl always wins.


  4. Hello James,

    I find this practice one of the most destructive practices. It also occurs to me as being remarkably stupid – in the sense of counterproductive: in the very process of picking one winner we make loser of all the rest. And the rest are always much more numerous. Furthermore, collaboration does not occurs in the context of competition. Then again, the human being is not a rational animal especially when it comes to behaviour in organisations.

    Al the best

  5. James,

    I agree with the two lessons: not all competition is useful and know your audience. What do we think the outcome is going to be among a gaggle of 5 year olds?

    And yet, there’s another lesson to learn here… among the right audience, at the right time: someone always wins, and someone else loses.


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