It’s dangerous playing “not to lose.”
A football team leads by ten points heading into the fourth quarter. The coach just wants to survive for fifteen minutes. He fears a fumble, an interception, or a blocked field goal. So he plays it safe. The opposing team, on the other hand, escalates their strategic risk – scores – shifts the momentum – scores again – and wins the game.
A professional golfer walks onto the 16th tee with a three stroke lead in the final round. It’s less safe to hit it over the hazard and lay up with a wedge, so he chooses a more conservative shot. The runner up takes the risk and birdies the hole. The two players end up in sudden death and the player once behind wins the match.
A software company attains first to market status with a new product. An initial marketing campaign produces huge returns. They replicate the same campaign over and over, producing less and less results. A few other companies enter the market with similar, but slightly more inventive features. The first to market company – unwilling to change their strategy, enhance their Value Proposition, or create an exit strategy so that they can pursue another idea – continues to lose market share and eventually closes their doors.
A young man heads to college. His heart and gifts point to international non-profit opportunities, but he chooses accounting to assure a steady job after college. His potential entrepreneurial and service experience is at best delayed, but most likely decimated.
Renowned marketing guru, Seth Godin, states that today – whether in business or life – it’s too risky to play it safe. Playing “not to lose” as opposed to “playing to win” produces a cancerous paradigm that permeates through the heart of an individual, a family, or an organization.
Cinderella Man is the true story of James Braddock, a professional fighter in late 1930’s and early 40’s, who overcame the economic implosion of the Great Depression to fight for the heavy weight championship. He entered the title fight as the overwhelming underdog to a much stronger and much younger existing champion named Max Baer.
In this scene, Braddock, through shear bulldog tenacity and heart leads Baer in points as they enter the final round. His manager exhorts him that the best way to win is to play it safe and stay away from Baer who will be looking for the knockout. Watch Braddock’s strategy:
Why did Braddock choose to stay on the offensive, even when he was ahead? Why do we so often choose to play “not to lose” as opposed to playing to win? Fear of unknown? Fear of pain? Fear of embarrassment? Fear of rejection? Fear of failure? Fear of success?
I met an incredible man twenty-five years ago. When I met George Constance he had completed 45 years in African field missions, and was currently involved in domestic ministry. He and his lovely wife Helen helped churches around the country transition between pastors. George was 83 years old when he served during our pastor search; we were his 33rd church. I’ve never met a man with more energy, devotion, and an incredible sense of humor. George and Helen certainly could have chosen a less stressful occupation at their age or no occupation at all. But they chose, as did Caleb in the book of Numbers, to “think differently”. They played to win until the end.
We – as John Wooden states – need to maintain physical, emotional, and spiritual intensity despite how far ahead or behind we perceive our current condition. We also need to train and encourage our young men to “play to win” in an age where mediocrity is the designated target. Young men often leave high school with emotional and mental baggage as well as a “passion void” of a dream to achieve. We must help them to think differently.
What is the next decision your son needs to make regarding academics, sports, church, relationships, etc. Is one of the available options the better choice, but more risky? Encourage him to take that option and do what you can to support his decision.