When John Winner (yes, that’s his real name) needs a winning idea, he breaks some of his 45 employees into teams and challenges each group to outdo the others. The co-founder and chief executive of Kizen, a data automation startup in Austin, Texas, believes that friendly rivalries produce better results than having everyone work together.
“Competition can be really fun and useful,” says Mr. Winner, 34, who considers himself a math whiz but admits he can’t match the perfect score his business partner achieved on the SAT’s quantitative section—in middle school. “I don’t believe these narratives that people are soft nowadays. I’m certainly not soft.”