Playing Not To Lose vs Playing to Win

As we start the year of 2019, I’m curious as to our disposition around this idea of “playing not to lose” vs “playing to win.”

I see both types of people, teams, corporations.

What’s the difference?

If we play not to lose, we are taking a defensive posture. In this posture we can’t actually win, unless it’s by accident (even that’s a stretch.) This is not a good strategy. We often feel comfortable in the “play not to lose” mindset, but it is a false comfort. It’s a “slow death” for a business, a team, a city, a culture, a relationship. This is the space where we don’t take any risks, or keep them really tightly measured. It feels comfortable in that we think it’s designed to not fail. But actually this is planned failure over the long haul. We think that if we do everything we can to not lose, then we will not have to worry about the risk of failure. It doesn’t work that way. If we play not to lose, we’ve already failed at the beginning. It’s just not yet apparent to the participant.

Playing to win involves risks. We MIGHT lose but we might win as well. In fact, we play as if we EXPECT to win. There’s a vulnerability in that space for the person stating their intention, whether to themselves or to those around them. But playing to win is the option that gives us the real opportunity to win. Sure, we may may go down in flames, but I say “better to have tried and to have lost than to have never tried at all.”

Leadership has to create a winning mindset and model it. Leadership is even more vulnerable in that space than others, since it also influences all other people and downstream results that are involved. It’s open to criticism of the onlookers, and to those on the team as well.

I’d rather play to win. To be dynamic. To take risks, to go for it, win or lose, pass or fail. Resilience is the quality I seek; to dust off after the loss or failure and to give it another go; to plug away; to be relentless. Sometimes we may have to call the game or change course at times. That’s okay as well. It happens with forward motion.

Playing to win is active, it’s participatory, dynamic and takes risks. Playing not to lose is on its heels, it’s static, it watches and is risk averse.

The manifestation of either position is rooted in mindset, which is a deep well. It’s subtle to the player, obvious to the viewer and onlooker.

Which disposition are you? What outcomes do you seek?

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