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Our Culture Is Obsessed With Winning

Our culture is obsessed with winning: just look at the amount of money cities invest in sports teams. If parents could operate like sports franchises, writing off investments in their children's education, imagine the immense potential that would be unlocked for developing our country's young minds.

A reverence for winners favors a narrow outcome over desirable personal qualities and long term solutions. This obsession confuses striving for excellence with a drive to stand out compared to others.

Healthy competition, which inherently has a playful quality, encourages persistence, skill building, and teamwork. When winning becomes the primary focus, however, it is no longer healthy. It becomes, almost inevitably, a losing strategy.

Here are four reasons why placing the emphasis on winning does not serve our highest aspirations.

This obsession fosters unhealthy relationships. The motivation to win values the self (or a proxy for the self) above others, inescapably inhibiting cooperation. This limited view cannot appreciate others for who they are and for what they bring to the table. In such an environment, everyone's skills and resources are grossly underutilized. A primary goal of winning discourages a generative meeting of the minds.

A culture of winning wastes valuable resources. It generates energy and passion. But, like eating junk food, the cravings are only temporarily alleviated. We get a hit of winning, and the glow of it soon passes. The hunger for the win itself leads to an inability to see the forest through the trees; and the big picture is lost. A strong, thriving culture views the whole as greater than the sum of its parts. A win/lose paradigm simply cannot promote a champion culture.

An exclusive focus on winning narrowly defines self-worth. The only way to prove our worth is dependent upon a narrow outcome. This creates a fear-driven, "us vs. them", worldview. Within a position of strength, by contrast, everyone is encouraged to be their best. Our self-worth is a given and we are more likely to act in ways that will make a lasting impact.

Finally, an unhealthy fixation on winning promotes short-term gains at the expense of long-term solutions. Great leaders are developed and complex problems are solved by adeptly moving through gray areas. Masterful problem-solvers view setbacks as inevitable and do not define them as failures. A singular focus on winning is black-or-white, either/or: and maybe that is why the paradigm is so compelling. This fixation can bring temporary comfort and the illusion of strength. But, ultimately, it does not produce lasting gains.


Let's enjoy the passionate showdowns of our beloved sports teams. But, for the health of our country, let's not mistake that kind of competition for an effective way to approach the most urgent problems we face today.

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