The sentiment expressed by Vince Lombardi, the legendary former coach of the Green Bay Packers, has reached manifesto status — “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”
At the other end of the spectrum is the antiquated idea derived from the Grantland Rice poem ‘Alumnus Football’ (1908) — “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
Though I’m usually up for a spirited debate, let’s stipulate that it is one thing to believe that winning is the point when we’re talking about our favorite competition.
But an almost blind obsession with finishing on top is far more ubiquitous than just in the games we play
The question is — when competitive juices drive the pursuit of a win at all costs no matter the arena, what is revealed about what we value most?
Surely there are important encounters where winning is decidedly not the only thing.
Where There Is A Winner…
We’re not just talking sports here.
There are the accolades that come with earning first chair in the band. Or landing the solo in choir. Or the lead in the play. Or completing a marathon.
Or finishing at the top of the class, landing the gig, holding the title.
And what about the disagreement with a friend or partner.
It can feel like everything is a contest.
Notwithstanding all that can be learned from healthy competition, when every endeavor is viewed as a win-or-lose proposition we are creating an environment where someone has to lose.
Few of life’s interactions realize full potential when approached as a winner-take-all zero sum game.
What Do We Value Most?
One of the questions each of us will eventually answer is what do I value most?.
Clarity around this question is foundational — to mental fitness, effective communication, vibrant relationships and to the mission of any team or community. Even an individual life.
With definition around what we value, we can a begin to rethink the way we define winning.
In the heat of any moment it is easy to view disagreement as something worthy of conflict. When this happens between parties equally committed to winning the moment, forget about making any progress.
Feed the conflict long enough and we risk tearing down the bridges that connect us.
Meanwhile, in the rough-and-tumble of the real world, the ultimate win is rarely about winning one encounter, one issue, one pitch or one moment of conflict.
In his book The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek makes the case that there are endeavors where the only “win” is to keep the “game” going. While it is certainly possible to lose when it comes to a relationship, the only way to win is by focusing on commonalities and to relentlessly pursue connection. And keep the game going.
When the objective is to build, nurture and sustain something — an idea, relationship, firm or community — the definition of winning is to keep the game going.
The Lost Art of a Win-Win
In the not-too-distant past the pursuit of a “win-win” — an outcome where everyone gains ground — was viewed as worthy.
This idea is scoffed at in a culture obsessed with finishing on top.
But we are in desperate need of a way to disagree and build bridges at the same time.
When a perceived win today is so all-consuming that we lose sight of implications for tomorrow, enduring progress and vibrant relationships hang in the balance.
When name-calling and finger-pointing replace intellectual honesty and intentional curiosity, we should admit that we no longer have our eyes on the future.
When words and deeds are calculated to precipitate division and animosity, it is impossible to believe that creating (or salvaging) any kind of functioning relationship is the priority.
When thoughtful discourse devolves into playground-style taunts we are no longer engaged in a serious attempt to build a bridge. Let alone, chart a new course.
At the stadium we need the scoreboard.
But when we insist on keeping score in the course of an infinite game — think an important relationship — we sabotage success. If there is a winner, there must be a loser.
When it comes to family, community, and interactions anywhere in the marketplace, we might do well to rethink our game theory.
So, for anyone seeking to be instigate more “win-win” interactions and engagements, here’s a framework. There are four value-driven characteristics:
- respect for others;
- intellectual honesty;
- intentional curiosity;
- commitment to bridge building.
Forget about winning the moment or owning the room.
Bring these four things to bear on any interaction and two things will begin to happen. Progress will be realized; and the bridges built will open up whole new avenues.