Fast Company

It's Not Only How You Play the Game—It's Whether You Win or Lose

Last week I spent time with a team of very sharp software developers who are designing a new product. A well-oiled machine, this group of men and women embodied the best practices in agile and lean software development--keep things simple, deliver working software rapidly, and adapt to changing circumstances. They were very impressive. That is until I lobbed an innocent, seemingly easy-to-answer, question at them. "What does a 'win' look like with regards to this product in 12 months?"

The team did not have a clear, compelling, and aligned answer. Differing perspectives (that should have been fleshed out months earlier) started to rear their heads. The team, it turned out, was in the process of flawlessly executing on a vague set of objectives. And ones that, frankly, weren't stretching them. A recipe for losing.

Consider This:

The old expression "it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game" is flat out wrong. Winning matters. It matters for an obvious reason--because you achieve something important. But it matters for a much bigger reason also.

It drives growth--personal, professional, revenue, you name it.

When you have to find a way to stretch yourself and win, it changes you. It makes you realize what you're capable of and builds your confidence. That doesn't happen when you merely play the game well.

Of course--you can't win all the time--and how you play the game does matter too. But it will never take the place of defining a stretch goal, digging down, and figuring out how to win when the going gets tough.

Try This:

  1. Define what a "win" is for you now--be specific, stretch yourself, and know how you'll measure it.
  2. Get feedback from trusted friends/colleagues to ensure you've set the bar at the right level
  3. If you're working with others, ensure you're all aligned.
  4. Keep the goal in front of you on a regular basis, so it's top of mind, perhaps posting it in your office
  5. Take on the mindset that failure is not an option (notice how this changes your plan of attack).
  6. Find a to play the game with excellence and win

Doug Sundheim is a leadership consultant, author, and speaker. He is currently working on a book on the topic of smart risk-taking. You can find him online at clarityconsulting.com and follow him on twitter @DougSundheim.

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