I'd like some help interpreting this sentence.
Why does the lack of competition make it more likely you'll discover new things? (And what is things referring to?)
I assume it means you can attack a problem at a more leisurely pace, so you see solutions you would have missed if you were in a feature-copying war with competitors. But I doubt PG would advocate running your startup leisurely.
Because if few are looking where you're looking, there's more chance that things you discover will be new.
By things I mean pretty much anything that could be the object of "discover", from mathematical concepts to narrative techniques.
"Robert L. Helmreich [tested] the relationship between achievement, on the one hand, and such traits as the orientation toward work, mastery (preference for challenging tasks), and competitiveness, on the other. A sample of 103 Ph.D. scientists were rated on these three factors based on a questionnaire. Achievement, meanwhile, was defined in terms of the number of times their work was cited by colleagues. The result was that "the most citations were obtained by those high on the work and mastery but low on the competitiveness scale."
This startled Helmreich, who did not expect that competitiveness would have deleterious effect. Could the result be a fluke? He conducted another study, this one involving academic psychologists. The result was the same. He did two more studies, one involving male businessmen, measuring achievement by their salaries, and the other with 1300 male and female undergraduates, using grade point average as the attainment criterion. In both cases he again found a significant negative correlation between competitiveness and achievement.
But Helmreich did not stop there. As of 1985, he had conducted three more studies. The first compared the standardized achievement tests of fifth- and sixth-graders to their competitiveness. They were negatively correlated. The second examined the relationship between performance of airline pilots and competitiveness. The relationship between the latter and superior performance was negative. The third looked at airline reservation agents and again found a negative correlation between performance and competitiveness.
Consider the question of artistic creativity. The little research that has been done suggests that competition is just as unhelpful here as it is in promoting creative problem-solving. In one study, seven- to eleven-year-old girls were asked to make "silly" collages, some competing for prizes and some not. Seven artists then independently rated their works on each of 23 dimensions. The result: "Those children who competed for prizes made collages that were significantly less creative than those made by children in the control group." Children in the competitive condition produced works thought to be less spontaneous, less complex, and less varied.
Consider journalism, a profession that, while no more competitive than many others, is worth exploring by virtue of its unusual visibility to outsiders. The frantic race for news generates terrific levels of anxiety ... on the part of journalists. Can we at least point to better reporting as the result of this competition? Setting reports against one another in a battle for space on the front page or the first block of a television news show probably lowers the quality of journalism in the long run, and so, too, does the contest among news organizations for subscriptions or ratings."