Losing is an Option

One of the early books that I bought from the pavements of Churchgate in Bombay (yes that’s how Mumbai was known when I was a student in the 1980’s) was titled ‘Born to Win’ authored by Muriel James and Dorothy Jongeward. I was in my last semester of Masters in Management at Tata Institute of Social Sciences. I carried this book with me when I went to attend the final job interview with Mr. P.S. Pai, the then President of Wipro Consumer Products (consumer products division was the biggest business of Wipro those days- not IT or Software!) in his office at Nariman Point. I sat down in front of him and quietly kept the book on the table. Mr. Pai, a highly successful business leader of his times, noticed the book title and looked quite pleased with the theme of winning. The interview started with Mr. Pai commenting on my carrying the book with a broad smile and I ended up grabbing the job with the company- the highest paid campus job offer that year was from Wipro!

Winning looked everything to me those days, because that is what everyone around me told and that’s what was taught in the classroom. Even later in my professional career, I heard many leaders emphatically saying that winning is the only option, or losing is not an option. In other words, losing cannot be treated even as a possibility-if you lose it has to be treated more as an accident or disaster!

Times have changed and many books have been written about winning.

The question, ‘what does it take to win?’ is stated as the trigger for Jack Welch and Suzy Welch to write a book titled ‘Winning’ in the year 2005 (besides, of course, the contract money and royalty that followed the book). This is a brilliant and practical book written more in context of competitive business and organizational leadership. The first book I referred was written much earlier in 1978 and deals more with positive psychology that can help everyone to be authentic, responsive and fulfilled human being. In that sense, the book goes beyond the powerful hook on the cover page.

Let me not digress. My theme is not winning, it is about losing!

When I say ‘losing is an option’ what do I mean? Surely, I have no intention of eulogizing a defeatist attitude. What I mean is that treating losing as an option early in the game prepares one to play the game with greater emotional balance, taking greater rational preparation and finally respecting the opponent and more importantly respecting oneself. Everyone knows that an ace sales person always takes losing as an option. He is not crippled by losing a business deal. He knows that in any contest there is a certain win-lose ratio and he is only trying to play to his strengths knowing reasonably well what his competitor can do. In a fair contest, if you lose you don’t lose your respect and if your competitor loses you don’t lose respect for him as well. That’s because you have factored losing as an option.

With losing as an option one can choose which battle to fight and which one to let go. Accomplished   sports professionals always make such choice. They don’t participate in every tournament and they tend to treat losing as part of the strategy. Leander Paes knows this. So are many other long lasting sports professionals. Successful CEOs know this. So are successful professionals from all walks of life.

A winning attitude is not about winning or losing. It is about winning and losing. It is about how you treat winning and losing. Wise parents train their children how to treat winning and losing. Great teachers, mentors and leaders help their students, mentees and colleagues treat winning with humility and losing with dignity. There is always more to learn from losing than from winning.

‘As a tennis player, you have to get used to losing every week. But you have to take the positive out of a defeat and go back to work. Improve to fail better.’- Stanislas Wawrinka ( Swiss tennis player who won the 2015 French Open title beating World No.1 Novac Djokovic)

Yes, choosing to lose better is a winning strategy. What do you think?