The myopia of “Winning”

Right now in the U.K, “winning” has a great deal of visibility. From European football to Wimbledon tennis to Brexit to Coronavirus, “winning” has centre stage.

Yet, when historians and anthropologists look at this generations hence, none of the “victors” seems likely to have had any significant impact on anything material at all. Worshipping those who win short term competitions is no more than the sugar rush of “more”. 

There are, theoretically, hundreds of thousands of “competitors” who I need to “beat” in the work I do. It is, of course, nonsense. As an adviser, I can work with no more than a handful of clients at a time. To do a good job, I have to invest time in being with them, and the success, or otherwise, of what I do is not a matter of knowledge or technical skill; it is one of listening, empathy and exploration of the possible. That is not a competitive occupation; it is a vocation. 

In “Punished by Rewards“, Alfie Kohn wrote fluently and movingly about the destructive effect of trying to reward teachers based on performance. Great teachers do not compete; they contribute. They will go the extra mile to help another teacher teach better. Forms of forced ranking, imposed by people who do not understand teaching, kills motivation and the joy of teaching stone cold dead.

Winning at football, or tennis, or most sports is entertainment, and that’s okay – in the end, it is not important. 

Winning in business, or economics, or politics is corrosive. We end up focusing on the short term when we should be building platforms for our children. The Iroquois Confederation had a basic rule for any decision – they asked themselves what effect any decision they made would have seven generations hence. They did not do “winning”.

We might want to consider learning from that.

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