What’s A Win?

In sports, it’s pretty simple: the highest number on the scoreboard, the fastest time on the clock, the highest score at the judges’ table wins. But in business, it’s never as simple as a single number, and the game is never over. So then, what’s a win?

There it was in the weekly report, an eighth digit. Eight digits had never been seen before on the weekly report. The number broke records, it exceeded plan and was the culmination of months of hard work and dozens of people. But was it a win?

Well, we didn’t hit that number in the way we had planned to, so there were a number of critical data points flashing red. Some on the team called that milestone a win and were pushing for it to be more celebrated while others on the team felt we had missed the mark, despite breaking the record. People were looking to leadership for a sign.

The signal they received was mixed. There was recognition for breaking the record, for the hard work put in to get to this point and for the successes we saw. There was also a stern reminder that top-line isn’t the whole story, that we are still missing the mark in critical areas of the business.

In my mind, there is no winning, at least not in some final-game-over sense of winning. Sometimes we’re ahead and sometimes we’re behind, but the game goes on (unless we lose). It’s kind of a sadistic game in that way: there is really only playing, losing and retiring. But to me, the fun of it is that we get to keep playing (as long as we choose to). 

If we remove this story about winning, maybe we can:
– Learn to enjoy the game a bit more.
– Appreciate the lows as much as the highs, trying to learn as much as we can from them.
– Learn to pace ourselves or recover after intense periods, knowing there’s always another quarter.
– Start to take a long view, sacrifice in the short term to build a brand that evolves the culture over time.
– Commit to never stop learning, allowing the game to present new lessons about ourselves, human nature, our culture.
– Work to stay humble, to be as thankful for those failures and beat-downs as we are for the successes and good luck that crosses our path.

Maybe if we stop making this about winning –recognizing that the end point is arbitrary– we can see that our work is all about people: our customers, our colleagues, our communities and our families. Maybe we’ll realize that if we work to serve them, we’ll find ourselves ahead more often than behind.

Also published on Medium.

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