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Where the Winners in Business Come From

By Paul Johnson

1,289 words. Abstract: The A-players in business don’t appear out of thin air. A lot goes into their development as winners. And parents have a lot to do with where the core of their development comes from.

You and I both probably had painful childhood experiences that involved winning and losing. I was always picked last when choosing teams for pick-up basketball games. Perhaps you had YOUR heart set on making a team or winning a contest, and it just didn’t happen. You can still remember the hurt to this day.

Today I’m concerned for our children. Both as a parent and as a member of society, I’m interested in the raising of psychologically healthy and strong children who will one day (sooner than we might like to think) be contributing to society, running our businesses and leading our country. I’m concerned that parents are letting the pain from their past corrupt the children of the present.

Who’s a Loser?
I was listening to a radio talk show this morning when the on-their personalities tossed this controversy into the air: should children be labeled winners and losers? They cited several news stories to fan the flames.

  • One was about children’s sporting events where no score was kept; because no team could be defeated, there could be no losers.
  • Another was about a trend at children’s birthday parties, where everyone got a prize. Playing games like Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey would be done for entertainment, but no specific price would be awarded because it would be wrong to declare a winner, thus making all the other children losers.
  • Finally, mention was made of the grading scale used in schools, which stratifies students into categories of winners and losers.

As you might imagine, many called into the radio station. A sustained debate ensued about whether children should be allowed to compete when the outcome apparently risks labeling many as losers.

Unfortunately, there was no clear winner. I’d like to change that.

Worth the Debate
I applaud all parents who care enough to have an opinion on this topic, because it’s important. We want to avoid sending ill-equipped offspring into careers where they will fail to reach optimum levels of satisfaction and reward. Parents seem happiest when their children are productive, happy, satisfied, and eventually living purposeful lives as adults. Yet this ongoing debate about whether children should compete seems to leave parents unhappy if not angered.

I happen to agree with both sides of the argument. The points I’ll offer shortly should clarify that apparent contradiction. Now for the disclaimer; I am not a psychologist. I only have two qualifications that qualify me to address this issue: I was once a child (duh), and I also am fortunate to be the parent of several children who are now adults. Hopefully my insights will serve you.

Put the Ending First
I am opposed to labeling anyone, young or old, losers. I’m not really in favor of labeling people at all, but if there must be labels, let them be positive ones like the term “winner.” So how could there be winners but no losers? Because there’s a big difference between winners and losers, and winning and losing.

Losing a game does not automatically earn anyone the label of loser. The term “losing” is simply the reflection of the score of a particular event that took place at a specific instance in time. In other words, winning and losing have nothing to do with being a winner or loser. Sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose. Except in basketball; I always lose. But that doesn’t make me a loser. I can win, and do win at lots of other things. And so do our children. It’s the -ING, not the -ER, that we should be concerned with and should be the focus in our use of language.

Winning Requires Luck
We tend to associate the terms winning and losing with all games. However, I contend there is a better word than winning to use in some instances.

Games generally require some combination of luck and skill. Some games are almost pure luck, others almost pure skill. Choosing the winning number on a roulette wheel is almost pure luck. Winning at Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey is also a rather lucky endeavor. However, where sports are concerned, the emphasis shifts to skill. Players in these games can most certainly influence the outcome of the game based on how skillfully they execute the requirements of the game. Where skill is not only encouraged but required, it’s an insult to the players to conclude that one team “won” the game. While we might be able to point to a few exceptions, the reality is that players usually earn the victory.

I made this distinction some years back when I heard my wife talking to one of her friends. I was in sales at the time, and had just qualified for our annual President’s Club incentive trip. She was explaining to her friend how I had won a trip to Hawaii. After she hung up the phone, I explained that I didn’t win anything. After working like a dog and skillfully applying the expertise I had developed over the years, I earned that trip as a reward. Clearly I was winning in my job, and I felt like a winner, but make no mistake about it; it was clear to me and my bosses that I had earned that reward.

Make sure your children can tell the difference between winning and earning. No one can afford to live their lives dependent on luck. If we want our children to develop their skills and learning, we should separate winning from earning.

Born to Earn
It’s obvious that winning is more fun than losing. Success is better than failure. Ideally, we would like to win at everything. But we can’t. We’re each born with a different set of gifts, a different set of strengths. We can develop these into useful and productive skills that will help us earn opportunities to win.

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Dr. Howard Gardner explains in his 1983 book titled Frames of Mind that there are at least seven different forms of human intelligence. In this initial book, he labeled them:

  • Linguistic (spoken and written language)
  • Logical-Mathematical
  • Musical
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic
  • Spatial (patterns of space)
  • Intrapersonal
  • Interpersonal

This means that some will be more inclined to win at music while others are inclined to win at math. Or running. Or writing. Or shearing sheep.

I like to see people playing games that they CAN win, even though sometimes they won’t. I get excited when I see young people figure out that they’re really good at something they also really like to do. That is usually the kernel for a productive and satisfying career.

The Business of Growing Winners

So what can parents do to raise happy, healthy children who will become satisfied, productive contributors to the world? First of all, forget about saving your child from pain. They’re going to fall down. They’re going to be disappointed. There will be many unhappy moments. Get over it, because they will. Let your child try stuff. Give them opportunities to discover their strengths and to sample the things that they might be good at.

Even more important, let them figure out how THEY have fun. Not everyone enjoys spelling bees, but some people do. Not everyone enjoys practicing music, but some people do. Not everyone enjoys standing in the outfield when there are no dandelions to pick, but some people do.

Let’s give our children opportunities to try winning and losing; that will make them winners. Let’s help them understand that some games are won, and some victories are earned. Let’s help children explore their gifts and discover their strengths so they will confidently know how they can win in this game of life. One day they may be working in the next office over from you.

© 2009 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson is the keynote speaker who gives teams the courage, motivation, and insight to overcome obstacles and create breakthrough growth opportunities at http://TroubleBreaker.com. Learn about business growth topics at http://Paul-Johnson.com.

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: What game did you win that was really earned?

Posted: under Managing Change (Leadership).
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Comments (0) Oct 01 2009

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Who is Cheating You Now?

By Paul Johnson

1,500 words. Abstract: Perhaps you’re frustrated because your hard work to create a better life seems thwarted at every turn. Use this approach to win against the people and problems blocking the paths to the results you desire.

Despite all our efforts at work, sometimes it seems we make little economic progress. Over the years, many metaphors have been used to describe our despair. “I am…

  • running in place.”
  • a hamster on a wheel.”
  • stuck on a treadmill.”

My favorite is, “I feel like a dog on linoleum.” When we’re not getting ahead, who is cheating us out of the rewards we deserve for our efforts? Many are potentially to blame:

  • Bosses that show favoritism at work.
  • Unfair labor practices.
  • Oppressive decisions inflicted as a result of greed, jealousy or ego.

While it may be true that these events cheat you out of rewards and opportunities you deserve, these events are not the ones you should worry about or even attempt to fix.

The Waste of Life
When we’re feeling stuck and not making the progress we want, frustration is often the symptom. We’re frustrated with our failure to achieve, our failure to earn, and our failure to attain a position of comfort and stability. By escaping the tyranny that is holding us back, our liberation will give us the ability to enjoy steady progress and enjoy more of the fruits of our labors.

My inspiration for this article came from Chris Anderson and his new book Free: The Future of a Radical Price (Chris is also author of the best seller, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, published in 2006). In Free, Chris Anderson explores the concept of waste. He points out that in the animal kingdom, mammals (including humans) have an unusual attitude toward waste. In short, we have an unhealthy aversion to it.

It’s actually bred into us because of our procreation patterns. He points out that the Bluefin tuna releases up to 10 million fertilized eggs in a single spawning season. Of those, maybe 10 will make it to adulthood. That means one in a million survives, and the rest are wasted. While the numbers are smaller, the story is pretty much the same for insects, reptiles, amphibians and birds. Only mammals attempt to preserve every life.

I was watching the Discovery Channel and learned that hundreds of sea turtles hatch from a single nest in the sand and then scamper down the beach into the ocean. The camera showed how one of them didn’t make it; a crab caught it and was going to eat it for dinner. Admit it; don’t you feel terrible about that? While we can rationalize that that’s the way nature is supposed to work, we still don’t like it. Our nature tells us not to waste anything, even the life of a single baby sea turtle.

Waste Not, Want More
This means that, deep down, we believe we live in a world of scarcity. Resources are limited. The number of jobs is finite. Energy is expensive. And for every problem, there is only one right solution.

That last statement is the myth that is cheating you out of the progress you desire. In our search for the perfect answer to our problem, we continually seek more information, spend more time, and consume more resources. Why? Because we want to find the perfect risk-free approach. Why does risk repulse us? Because we are genetically programmed to avoid waste.

Perhaps your progress has been limited because you’ve been trying to engineer the perfect risk-free solution to each of your problems. Perhaps you should start considering that there may be a million answers to your problem. Pick one. Try it. Repeat as necessary.

This simple approach allowed Thomas Edison to bring us the light bulb. He “wasted” 999 versions so he could produce the one that worked. None of us care about those 999, yet they were critical to the process that eventually produced success. Understand that none of your failed efforts are ever really wasted as long as you don’t neglect one little thing.

While this may seem like a simple concept to understand, overcoming millions of years of evolution is no easy task for us. Let’s break this down into three distinct components that can make this concept easier for you to internalize.

I. Choose to Waste
See? You’re already feeling guilty. Here we are, living in an age when we’re trying to preserve our planet and the daily news is filled with reports of our dwindling oil reserves, food shortages and unemployment statistics. Yet there are many things you could choose to waste with little consequence to you or anyone else.

  • Long-distance minutes.
  • Space on your hard drive.
  • The fuzzy leftovers in the back of your fridge.
  • The clothes in your closet you’re really never going to wear again.

Sometimes I waste air-conditioning. On days that are warm, but not too warm, I turn on the air conditioning in my car and roll down the windows. I want the fresh air, the breeze and the connection to the outside, but it’s a little too warm to rely on just a breeze to keep me comfortable. I decided that once the air conditioning is running, having the windows up or down has negligible impact on my fuel consumption but major impact on my comfort.

Choosing to waste like this makes it easier when it comes time to face a problem and you have to make a choice. More often than not, the choices available are not mutually exclusive. Just pick one and get going. As long as you don’t neglect to learn something from each attempt — like Edison did — none are really wasted.

II. Take a Second Chance
After you’ve made a choice and tried it, you’ll often find that it doesn’t work. Be kind to yourself and give yourself a second chance (and a third and fourth as well). I routinely try new things. When they work, I keep doing them. If they don’t work, I try something else. Thomas J. Watson, former president of IBM had this to say: “The way to succeed is to double your error rate.” He understood the value of learning from mistakes, and as a result built IBM into a huge business.

I’ve spent the better part of my career in sales, and have frequently needed to take a second chance. In one case, a customer got a little aggressive deep in the negotiation phase. When I wouldn’t acquiesce to his demands, he threw me out of his office. I never saw or spoke to him again. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t get the order. I took a second chance and figured out a different way to “close the deal” and earn the commission.

III. Let Possessions Flow
At an early age, we all learn the word, “Mine!” We tend to get attached to and protective of our possessions like our houses, cars, and the money in our bank account. Instead of being a collector of possessions, I’m suggesting you accept that they will ebb and flow during your life like the tides of the oceans. Sometimes you’ll have to give something up for the opportunity to make progress.

In baseball, base runners know that they have to take their foot off first base to have any hope of attaining second base. They are vulnerable to being called out whenever they are not safely standing on a base (the only totally risk-free way of attaining second base is by hitting an out-of-the-park home run). Letting go is the key to achieving more.

Unfortunately, letting go is another form of waste to us mammals. This innate behavior was supposedly used successfully to hunt monkeys. A hole was cut in a coconut just large enough for a monkey’s open hand to enter. The coconut would be tethered to a nearby tree, and then some nuts would be placed inside. A passing monkey would discover the nuts, reach in and grab them, but couldn’t remove their hand because their closed fist was too large to fit through the opening. There they remained, unwilling to let go of the nuts even as the hunters returned to kill them.

Let Go and Get Going
Sometimes we need to be willing to release what’s already in our grasp so we can move on to something better. When you’re feeling stuck and yet afraid to let go of the familiar, consider that the worst case scenario is seldom the most probable scenario. The things we most fear rarely materialize. You CAN work around the obstacles that are making it difficult for you to achieve the progress and gain the rewards you desire and deserve. Always begin by believing that there is more than one “right” answer to the problem you’d like to solve. Pick one and get going. Don’t cheat yourself out of the better life you’re searching for.

© 2009 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson is the keynote speaker who gives teams the courage, motivation, and insight to overcome obstacles and create breakthrough growth opportunities at http://TroubleBreaker.com. Learn about business growth topics at http://Paul-Johnson.com.

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: When has taking a second chance paid off for you?

Posted: under Achieving Results (Production).
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Comments (0) Sep 01 2009