The other day, I happened upon a comment on LinkedIn that caused me to really think. The post was about a small local dessert shop that had a line out the door and was therefore winning. The comment contended that they could not be winning because they had a competitor that had over 60 locations across many states. I have to disagree with this comment.
In today’s marketplace, I think we have confused ourselves with what the idea of winning is (thank you, Jack Welch). There are many reasons that we tend to look at winning as simply the bottom line, the stock value, or the opinion of social media. There are a lot of reasons that we tend to define winning as something that brings in truckloads of cash for the executives of a business, which often is ourselves included. I want to push back against this concept. Winning ought to be defined differently in our society.
Our culture is built upon accolades, fame, wealth, and prestige. We idolize those who make us laugh, cause us to cry, entertain us, thrill us, and cause us to envy. I love sports, movies, and business as much as most people. I appreciate an economic structure that allows someone to start up a business in their garage and be able to solve global issues. This helps to lift all of us. Thank you, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, and so many others.
In my own life, I have spent the past several years frustrated with not seeing the returns that I had expected and hoped to see from my time starting up companies. I never saw my big payday. This has been hard. However, if I step back and really think about it then do I consider that I lost? Did my idea lose? Or, did I accomplish what I set out to do and change a piece of the world by bringing an idea to fruition and providing the marketplace with a better product that helped individuals achieve their goals? I even did this at scale.
I have started to change my paradigm on what I consider winning when it comes to what I have done in the past. It can be easy to say that we never raised x or that there wasn’t a big IPO or other exit events, but winning should not be gauged by what is in our bank accounts or stock portfolios.
Too many of us are programmed to keep score in life. We may have learned this from sports, video games, or some other series of events growing up. We likely have even learned this from business. Everything is measured in today’s world. We track all sorts of data to see how well we are doing.
The problem that arises from this line of thinking is that we become finite in the way that we go about life, our relationships, and our accomplishments. This has affected my view of what I have done in the past.
Simon Sinek wrote a superb book titled, The Infinite Game, where he speaks to this line of thinking in the way that we deal with people and lead within organizations. If we are on a football field we are living out a finite experience. There is a set of rules, a set amount of time, and a determined way to win or lose. This will end. However, if we really want to build a business that lasts the test of time then we need to be more infinite in the way that we play the game. Maybe we need to stop treating it as a game altogether.
An infinite mindset embraces abundance whereas a finite mindset operates with a scarcity mentality. In the Infinite Game we accept that “being the best” is a fool’s errand and that multiple players can do well at the same time.
― Simon Sinek, The Infinite Game
I have an uncle who started his own retail store in the mid-1980s. He initially started it with a group of partners while working as a successful financial planner for his primary source of income. Over 35 years later, that business is a mainstay in the community and a thriving business. He is able to travel with his wife and children several times a year and has been able to employ high school and college kids for decades. He has been asked to expand by opening up other locations and growing, sometimes entertaining the idea, but never moving forward with it. He is content. To him, he is winning. He has built a legacy for his family and the community. Does he need to grow it into a franchise and lose control and authenticity? No! He can keep it small and have a big impact.
This is one alternative way to approach winning. Is it nice to have lots of money in our bank accounts and never need to worry about finances ever again? Sure, but this is not all that it is.
As I contemplate my own level of winning, I am humbled to think about how much I have accomplished.
Just the other day, I was conversing with one who was a part of a local tech startup and he benefited very well from his exit. He asked what I did and I told him. He was shocked at how modest I was about what I had accomplished. As I think back to moments when I talk about my accomplishments, I am less grateful than I should be. I often fail to acknowledge what I have done. Sometimes, I am even bitter that I did not get to see the big exit that others seem to experience. At times, this has become a thorn in my side and has kept me from seeing the good that I did accomplish.
If we go about our lives seeking to see who can end up with the largest bag and nothing more then, I believe, we have failed. If we go about seeking to do good and to benefit others and are rewarded financially in addition then we are winning, but we do not need the wealth to be considered a winner. We don’t need many locations and an increasing portfolio to be winning.
The prophet Jacob taught this principle really well in the Book of Mormon
let not this pride of your hearts destroy your souls! Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you. But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.
― Jacob 2:16-19, emphasis added
There are many ways to win, but I attest that we need to look at life as an infinite game with infinite winners. We need to cease the zero-sum approach. There is an abundance on this earth and the more that we look at each other as opportunities to lift and serve then we will find this abundant lifestyle and we will consider ourselves winning whether we have one location or three thousand. Not all of us are going to become Sam Walton or Jeff Bezos but all of us can become winners by learning to push ourselves and then help to lift those around us.
Each time I travel to Europe, I am impressed by the many amazing restaurants, bakeries, gelato stands, and cafes that line the city streets. Yes, there are some American fast food chains, but I don’t see the big chains that we tend to flock to here. The food is fresher, more unique, and all around better. Most restaurant jobs in Europe are a career. They are usually a single location that hires great staff and great chefs. They appreciate quality over quantity. They aim to create a great experience, not a global empire. The experience in that atmosphere for me is much better. I appreciate the restaurateurs in America that work to replicate that model. Bigger is not always better.
Let us rethink winning and hopefully build better and respect those that build great things but desire to keep it small.