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One-upmanship is the art or practice of successively outdoing a competitor.
Exactly when the term originated is unknown; several examples are known from the early 1900s. It was used in the title of a book by Stephen Potter, published in 1952 as a follow-up to The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship (or the Art of Winning Games without Actually Cheating) (1947), which also contained the term, and Lifemanship titles in his series of tongue-in-cheek self-help books, and film and television derivatives, that teach various ploys to achieve this. This satire of self-help style guides manipulates traditional stuffy British conventions for the gamester, all life being a game, who understands that if you're not one-up, you're one-down. Potter's unprincipled principles apply to almost any possession, experience or situation, deriving maximum undeserved rewards and discomforting the opposition. The 1960 film School for Scoundrels and the 2006 film School For Scoundrels were satiric portrayals of how to use Potter's ideas.
In that context, the term refers to a satiric course in the gambits required for the systematic and conscious practice of "creative intimidation", making one's associates feel inferior and thereby gaining the status of being "one-up" on them. Viewed seriously, it is a phenomenon of group dynamics that can have significant effects in the management field: for instance, manifesting in office politics. The term has been extended to a generic, often punning extension, upmanship, used for any assertion of superiority: for instance, Photon upmanship, Native Upmanship, and so on.
- See Debates: Official Report, 1903, 6: 6115, Canadian Parliament, House of Commons.
- In full, One-Upmanship: Being Some Account of the Activities and Teachings of the Lifemanship Correspondence College of One-Upness and Games Lifemastery.
- "The Timelessness of Stephen Potter's Gamesmanship" by Burling Lowrey. Virginia Quarterly Review Autumn 1993 pp. 718–726
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