Monthly Archive for February, 2004

You Can’t Win ‘Em All, Nor Should You

Winning is not just the best thing, it is the only thing. That admonition is firmly embedded in the gospel of career success.

Career Tip: Real winners know you can’t win them all, nor should you.

If you insist on winning every single point, you set up unnecessary opposition. Let’s face it, nobody likes anyone who always seems to win.

Fact is, it is not necessary to win every point. It is a very rare situation that has only one right answer. One instance would be in disarming a live bomb. Another might be brain surgery. Otherwise, several acceptable options usually exist.

Unless you are absolutely sure you have the only correct answer, or that your organization will be materially damaged if you don’t prevail, you should let associates win a few. This strategy of losing deliberately is especially desirable if your boss or your subordinates are involved. Their abilities as well as their morale will be improved.

But when common sense says you must win it is time to fight with tooth and claw.

Winning is not a zero sum matter. There does not have to be a loser for every winner. When you win, it is just common sense to make sure others feel they won, too. When you lose, accept responsibility, no ifs, ands or buts.

Job Tip: You must take risks to make progress. If you take risks you will lose some of the time. You just need to be sure you win enough of the big ones to be a winner at the end of the run.

Thomas Edison recorded some 25,000 failures in his attempt to invent a storage battery. “Those were not failures,” he said. “I learned 24,999 ways not to make a battery.”

R. H. Macy failed seven times before his first store caught on. Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times, but he also hit 714 home runs.

Dr. Harry Levenson, noted psychologist and adviser to management, declared that a key characteristic of successful managers is the willingness to take big risks. “Not crazy risks, but big risks. They are willing to endure the distress of fear and uncertainty until the results are known. They stick with their decisions even when there are some downers before their ideas begin to pay off. They envision outcomes that others, without the same range of perception cannot see, and then act on that basis.”

If you truly want to travel the career path to success, and you work in an organization that demands that you always be right, you are in trouble. You will either be suffocated or you will frequently be in trouble for trying new ideas and for making the inevitable mistakes that go with them. You should get out as fast as you can, unless you want to live in a restrictive bureaucracy.

You need to be particularly wary of the organization that loudly calls for risks taking, while expecting a hit every time you come to bat. Perfect is not normal.

David Ogilvy, a superstar in the advertising business, related the story of a toy buyer at Sears who made a mistake that cost his company $10 million. When Ogilvy asked the man’s boss if he planned to fire the erring buyer, he replied, “Hell, no. I fire people who never make mistakes, because they never take chances.”

If you are making a reasonable number of mistakes, your boss won’t know that you trying.”

Bottom line career advice: Be willing to take common sense risks. Be ready to lose some in order to be a big winner in the end.