The Perfectionist vs The Conqueror

  • Reading time:10 mins read

3 min read.

Everyone loves to compare Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and their insane competitiveness. But I think while they’re quite similar work ethic wise, they’re probably more different than you think.

Jordan the Conqueror & Kobe the Perfectionist

What defines a perfectionist?

Their drive is internal. They are their harshest critic. Forever trying to get that perfect game. The perfect performance.

This is Kobe.

Compare this to the conqueror

Their drive is external. They may not admit it, but there’s a sort of validation needed from others. When they hold the trophy, it doesn’t matter how they got there. They won it. Who cares. Win at all costs. Do whatever it takes.

Michael Jordan to a tee.

Here’s what Rick Fox, Bryant’s former teammate, thinks about Michael Jordan compared to Kobe Bryant:

“Michael had to win at everything,” he recalls. “I mean he couldn’t drive from Chapel Hill to Wilmington without making it a race. Whether you want to compete or not, he was competing with you.”

“But I think Kobe competes with himself more than anything else. He sets barriers and challenges for himself, and he just happens to need other people to come along with him. He’s playing an individual sport in a team uniform – and dominating it. Once he steps off the court, though, he’s not interested in competing with you in the way you dress or how you drive.”

“He’s obsessed with chasing the goals he set for himself at 15 or 16.”

(Eleven Rings p.234)

Perfectionists are less satisfied with winning if it wasn’t perfect.

Conquerors are less satisfied with winning if they didn’t beat someone.

On The Last Dance, how often is Michael competing with someone? Basketball, golf, flipping coins with security. He not only wants to play, but beat someone too.

Both share something in common though. They are never satisfied. Their work ethic and will to win is seemingly inhuman.
There’s always something to be improved. Or always someone to dominate.

What else makes them so different?

Loving to Win or Hating to Lose

Are you chasing the feeling of success? Or running away from the feeling of failure. 

Whilst no one likes losing, how you react can be totally different. 

Think about the perfectionists perspective. Learn from your mistakes. Next game focuses on amending errors and improving. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a blip. Overall focus is the craft. Achieving excellence.

The conqueror’s views on losing? Losing is unimaginable. It’s a slight against you.
Next game focus is total annihilation and destruction.

Just look at the Jordan vs LaBradford Smith scenario. Smith, a rookie, gets the better of Jordan one game. There’s a rumour (which Jordan actually created) of Smith saying “Nice game, Mike”.

Jordan goes on to dominate Smith the following night. No mercy.
Just conqueror things.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

For a conqueror, it seems like a more emotional reaction. Pure primal. 

Perfectionist response? Tactical and delivered. More Calculated.

Whilst the perfectionist loves winning, not losing is a driving factor.

For a perfectionist, whilst he hates losing, the winning is what drives them.

Chaos or Structure?

The Perfectionist?
Routine. Order. Structure. How else could you possibly get the best out of yourself? Could you even classify as a perfectionist if you don’t worry about the details. They crave technical precision of doing everything right to the finest possible detail. 

Kobe pretty much patented the 4am workout. The obsession with perfecting your craft when no one is awake. Even just the thought of knowing you put more work in gives the psychological edge, helping achieve perfection. No days off.

The Conqueror’s love chaos. Structure is stifling.
For Jordan, he even creates his own chaos. Played 36 holes of golf before games. Smoked cigars. Orders Pizza at 10:30 before Game 5 of the finals. A time I’d assume his teammates were already well asleep.
Probably why he wanted Dennis Rodman on the team. Understood his chaos and enjoyed that he was chaos within the team. Yet performed when it mattered.

Jordan’s pre-game routine? Chaos.

“Michael was out shooting before the game tonight, That is not a normal routine for him.”

Wayne Larrivee on Jordan warming up the game he went nuclear on LaBradford Smith.

Rock up. Cause chaos. Destroy opponents physically and mentally. Find a new opponent.
Rinse and repeat.

Pre game with a baseball bat & cigar

Away from the Game

Perfectionists when away from their game, still pursues obsessive-perfection type hobbies.
For Kobe it was a number of things. Languages. Piano. Writing. These don’t involve beating anyone else. It’s perfecting your craft and improving against yourself.

Kobe’s life after he retired? Felt he was able to completely switch off from basketball and move on. His transition to other projects was pretty seamless. Found a new perfection type activity, and went all in.

Conquerors when away from their game? Find something new to conquer. Find someone new to beat.
Much was spoken about Jordan’s gambling ‘problem’. But I believe him saying he doesn’t have a gambling problem. It’s a competitive problem.

He already has money. He just wants your money in his pocket. Compete and conquer.

Jordan after retirement came back. And then retires and comes back again. Jordan can’t settle. It’s onto dominating someone else. There’s no second chapter. It’s just continue to dominate at whatever you do. Whether it be Basketball, Golf or Gambling. You can’t really switch it off.


Both the perfectionist and the conqueror, both Kobe and Jordan, have an insane work ethic. There’s no doubt. But the way they apply it is vastly different. 

The end result of intense competition is the same. But the journey there is poles apart.

I doubt many people fit 100% in one category or the other. Like anything in life, nothing is black and white. So even with Jordan and Kobe, I don’t think they’re 100% conqueror or 100% perfectionist. But they are strong, well known, examples that represent each side.

So are you a perfectionist or a conqueror?

Obligatory I’m not a psychologist, what should I know yada yada yada. Just my observations. With my examples, I hate to speak on behalf of other people and label them. But I hope in this article and explanations I gave it’s justified. Full credit to /u/EmBeezy for giving the idea and foundation for this post!