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The Concept of Winning

Every now and again, somebody asks us what’s so good about winning. It always stops us in our tracks. What, we wonder, could be bad about it?

In fact, we think winning is great. Not good – great.

The reasons are simple. Winning in business is great because when companies win, people thrive and grow. There are more jobs and more opportunities everywhere and for everyone. People feel upbeat about the future; they have the resources to send their kids to college, get better health care, buy vacation homes, and secure a comfortable retirement.

And winning gives them the opportunity to give back to society in hugely important ways beyond just paying more taxes – they can give time and money to charities and mentor in inner-city schools, to name just two. Winning lifts everyone it touches – it just makes the world a better place.

When companies are losing, on the other hand, everyone takes a hit. People feel scared. They have lessened financial security, and limited time or money to do anything for anyone else. All they do is worry and upset their families, and in the meantime, if they’re out of work, they pay little, if any, taxes.

Let’s talk about taxes for a minute. While government is a key part of society and vital to all of us, it makes no money of its own. All the necessary things it provides -- the justice system, education, police and fire protection, highways and ports, welfare and hospitals -- come from some form of tax revenue. Government is the support for the engine, it is not the engine.

Winning companies are the engine of a healthy society and nothing short of the foundation of a free and democratic society. That’s why winning is great.

Now it goes without saying that you have to win the right way – cleanly and by the rules. That’s a given. Companies and people that don’t compete fairly don’t deserve to win, and thanks to well-honed internal company processes and government regulatory agencies, the bad guys are usually found and kicked out of the game. But companies and people in business that are honest – and that’s the vast, vast majority – must find the way to win. That is, in large part, what this website is all about.

What Do You Call Winning?

I’ve always heard it said that “there is no profit in winning if you lose your soul.” Will historians say of us: “They won fortunes in the new global economy…but destroyed families, communities, and even nations”? What do you call winning?

Winning, actually, doesn’t have anything to do with the markets or profits—though it can. Winning is a personal journey. It’s about reaching a destination you choose. At its most fundamental, winning is about achievement. Your goal could be creating a happy family, teaching children to read, or sailing around the world. Then again, it could be building a company that succeeds in the global marketplace.

Your suggestion that economic success is somehow, by definition, morally corrupt is dead wrong. Look, winning in business is not a zero-sum game. In sports, when one team wins, the other loses. In business, when a company wins, there are usually collateral winners, too. The executives and shareholders, of course, but also employees, distributors, and suppliers. Success often leads to dozens of startups that supply the “mother” company, creating jobs, the lifeblood of any society. When people have meaningful work, they have the freedom to set goals, not just survive. They have the freedom to dream.

Sure, there are those who lose their souls to profit. That old story gets refreshed with every new account of corporate cheating. There always will be corrupt jerks in every field, from the priesthood to politics. But we believe that most businesspeople want to win the right way. They want to start companies or help build them. They want to search for new ideas. They want to invent new technologies. They want a better life for their families, friends, and colleagues.
Will future historians look back on these people and say their definition of winning ruined the world? Or might they just say they made it a better place?

What about the "Non-Winners"?

All this talk about winning makes me wonder, is there any place for losers in this world? Only a small percentage of people succeed; should all the non-winners just kill themselves?

What a question—it has to mean you see winning in purely economic terms. That’s just not how it has to be.
We think about winning another way: as setting personal goals and achieving them, and (as importantly) enjoying the experience on the way. Winning has nothing, or everything, to do with your job. Yes, you can win as a corporate executive, but you can win just as meaningfully as a carpenter, math teacher, or singer in a wedding band. You can win raising a family, caring for your parents, or being a good friend—as long as those are the dreams you picked for yourself. Indeed, the biggest winners in the world are those who answer yes to the question, “Am I living the life I choose?”

One of the biggest winners we know is a person who by your economic definition would probably not qualify at all. Jim O’Connell graduated from Harvard Medical School. But instead of pursuing a lucrative career, he has spent the past 25 years driving a van around Boston practically every night, delivering medical care to the homeless. He lives simply; yet Jim’s life is full of joy, and he is beloved by everyone lucky enough to know him, from street people to senators.
Look, winning and losing can’t be quantified. They are states of mind, and losing only happens when you give up. Seen that way, then, the world can be filled with winners, and there is room for them all.
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