In Business, Losers Aren't Always a Lost Cause

Many years ago I was on a tour of the Pentagon. One of the other people on the tour was a Quaker. At one point in the tour the guide gave us a quiz. When one person had the correct answer the guide said, "There is always one winner in every group." To which the Quaker guy responded, "I guess that makes all the rest of us losers."

I've had a lot of time to ponder losing since the recent Super Bowl loss of the Seattle Seahawks (a bird, by the way, that doesn't really exist outside the NFL).

But I don't feel like a loser. In fact, I feel like I got to share in a great experience of a team mired in mediocrity (30 years without a visit to the big dance) that suddenly took off on a magical winning streak that had total strangers high-fiving one another on downtown street corners. In a year when Seattle almost broke a record for consecutive days of rain, this was a terrific ray of sunshine that glowed week after week.

Of course, I realize that I'm going to sound like a huge rationalizer, but I'm not sure that losing is such a terrible thing. I've been as destination-focused as the next guy, but recently I've started to learn the importance of enjoying the journey.

And it's no different at work. Most corporations tend to have sales contests that reward individual achievement. I don't want to sound like some kind of socialist, but I seldom have seen a top-selling salesperson who didn't owe at least part of his or her success to secretaries, support staff, product designers -- all the people who seldom share in the trips and other bennies reserved for top sellers.

Just like in sports, does it make sense to consider these people losers just because they didn't win the sales contest? I'm not saying that a great performance shouldn't be recognized, but simply that there are more winners in the NFL than the Pittsburgh Steelers. And there are usually great performers in most organizations beyond those names on the Employee of the Month plaques and sales contest winners.

So I'd like to tip my hat to all the people who aren't winners but who I refuse to call losers. People who manage to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get back in the game day after day, week after week.

Would I have written a different blog this week had my team won? Actually, I probably wouldn't have written at all. I think we hear enough from winners. I thought that the losing perspective was more newsworthy. Heck, if for no other reason than we losers outnumber winners.

Quote of the Week

"Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without hell." -- Frank Borman.

Book Excerpt of the Week

From "Freakanomics," by Lefitt and Dubner (Morrow, 2005):

"Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life. And understanding them -- or often ferreting them out -- is the key to solving just about any riddle, from violent crime to sports cheating to online dating. The conventional wisdom is often wrong. Crime didn't keep soaring in the 1990s, money alone doesn't win elections, and -- surprise -- drinking eight glasses of water a day has never actually been shown to do a thing for your health. Conventional wisdom is often shoddily formed and devilishly difficult to see through, but it can be done."

Blog Ballot Results

Here are the results from a recent Working Wounded Blog/ABCNews.com online ballot:

How much does your organization support teamwork?

   A lot, 21.8 percent

   A little, 25.4 percent

   You're joking, right?, 52.7 percent

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, an internationally syndicated columnist, popular speaker, and a recent addition to the community of bloggers. He welcomes your comments at bob@workingwounded.com.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

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