Winning and Losing

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Let’s face it.  We all like to win.  And we hate to lose.  That is because from an early age, we are conditioned to believe winning is good and losing is bad.  

As a verb, “lose” means to be deprived of something.  As an adjective, “losing” refers to suffering or defeat. Of course, we cannot forget the noun “loser.”  None of these versions connote positive, uplifting thoughts, so it is understandable why the words “win,” “winning” and “winner” have been seen as ubiquitously preferable.

But sometimes, winning isn’t the best strategy. I first learned this watching someone play chess several years ago. Like anyone with even an ounce of a competitive streak, I always thought the goal for any game of strategy or competitive sport was to win.  Let me  use the terms “Player A” and “Player B” to expand.

During the match to which I referred above, it was obvious that Player A’s primary objective was to slaughter as many of his opponent’s chess pieces as possible.  And it was working to a degree.  

Player B’s approach was less aggressive.  While Player A seemed to be aiming at one of Player B’s pieces every turn, Player B passed up several opportunities to take one of Player A’s pieces and instead spent a lot of time fortifying their side of the board. The match continued on with Player A maintaining an offensive approach and Player B hunkering down in defense.  Then the power shifted.

Player B began to peck off a number of Player A’s pieces as they neared his stronghold. Player A had to sacrifice pieces in order to break through the wall Player B had created. Needless to say, Player A eventually succumbed to Player B.  Game over.

That’s when I realized that trying to win and trying not to lose were two very different things.  Player B, by trying not to lose, was able to approach the match strategically.  Player B knew that focusing on his opponent’s pieces might provide some short-term satisfaction and gain, but when compared to Player A’s “take no prisoners” approach, would be more effective in the long-run.  

This line of thinking applies elsewhere. Focusing on a “win,” whether in game, sport, business negotiations and even politics can be very narrow and transactional.  A “win” does usually come with an immediate sense of gratification.  However, as the spoils of the victory fade, so does the likelihood that additional and more transformational opportunities will develop.  It’s similar to the phrase, “win the battle but lose the war.”  

The point? We are all born with the ability (and some would argue responsibility) to cultivate relationships in which we create, inspire and make things better for ourselves and others.  

If we truly desire to be fair, equitable-minded people, then we need to adopt a new paradigm about the “art of the deal.” After all, cultivating “wins” at the expense of others isn’t really winning anyway.

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