The blinding power of winning creates a paradox whereby it is the ultimate goal, while also contributing to future defeats. Winning can become blinding when it is assumed there are no lessons to learn from the loser. If the loser knew what they were doing, they’d have won. Right?
Most high performing people understand this isn’t true and freely cite their failures are being more formative than their successes. As part of a Nike campaign, Michael Jordan famously claimed he’s missed 9000 shots in his career, Muhammad Ali used to be robbed as a child so he learnt to fight and become world champion, and Japanese figure skater, Shizuka Arakawa, is said to have fallen over 20,000 times during her training to become Olympic champion.
In business, Richard Branson talks openly about how overcoming the barriers his dyslexia put in his way forced him to become resilient and innovative — two essential characteristics of a successful business person. While James Dyson took 15 years and over 5,000 attempts before he achieved the first working design.
Clive Woodward, the former England rugby coach who won the World Cup in 2003, with a background running his small business, has an interesting approach here. If you have won a big game, or secured a big business deal, instead of running to the pub, as one might be tempted to do, his team would sit down understand why they won. What were the critical decisions they made and their opponent didn’t (or vice versa) that lead to success. That way, they protected themselves from the blinding power of winning. It is no coincidence Woodward’s book is called ‘Winning!’.
Over the years, high-performance teams have lost their monopoly on this mindset. It is more common-place in businesses across the world or all sizes and even in amateur sports teams. They all have something in common though. They are willing to learn — whether they win or lose, they believe they can get better. But in politics, perhaps where egos are greatest, they still seem stuck in the dark ages.
Look at two major pseudo campaigns being waged currently. One, from anti-lockdown campaigners and the other from those on both sides of the Scottish Independence debate. I am more interested in the approaches these people use to press their point, as opposed to the merits of their points themselves.
One particularly prominent anti-lock down voice has said things like this:
“This [lockdown] will never end”
“I despair at what our Government has done”
“Lockdown has devastated London”
It is no coincidence that this person was also a Leave campaigner. The success of the Leave campaign has left this person free to use losers tactics. Catastrophising simply doesn’t work.
Just look at ‘Project Fear’ or the ‘Prophets of Doom’ that Donald Trump mocked. When both the Remainers and the anti-Trump campaigns used similar tactics in 2016, they lost. I have written before on the context of anti-Trump campaigners:
“Voters recognise the disconnect between the predictions and the reality, but don’t view it is a simple miss-judgement. Instead it’s something more insidious. They feel lied to; deliberately deceived by a class of people… that insults voters’ intelligence through fear tactics.
Shifting to the issue of Scottish Independence, English Unionists are this time under-valuing the role of emotion, and committing the same tactical errors Remainers did in 2016. A brilliant writer recently wrote in The Times about how Scotland being part of the Union allows it to be more than the sum of its parts, but used very practical language to argue their point. They spoke of collaboration and a shared history worth celebrating. How, only together, we are Great Britain. Unionists use their fair share of economic catastrophising too.
But again, doesn’t this all sound too familiar? It is reminiscent of the language used by Remainers. Or, to call them something more unkind — the Losers.
The tactics described above do not discriminate against ideology, they can be used by either side of a campaign. The peculiar thing is, losing tactics are now being used by people who fought against, and defeated, them only a few years ago. The winners — blinded by their success — are becoming the losers.
We are seeing multiple debates only beginning to happen; the likelihood is they will continue for several more years. Those who have been successful in recent campaigns need to understand why they were successful and accept that — spoiler alert — they didn’t win simple because they campaigned harder or were more passionate. There was a strategy, skill, and tactics at play. If the ‘winners’ are blinded by their previous success, failing to properly grasp what worked and what didn’t, then they will fail. The consequence will likely be the break up of the Union.