We all hate to lose. Some of us more than others, but there isn’t a single person who doesn’t prefer to win. Winning is in our nature. It’s a powerful, innate force that drives us to compete for something we want.
Research shows us that the will to win and the motivation to compete often promotes survival and success. While our competitive nature is triggered instinctually when we perceive a desired asset to be either scarce or contested, in areas as varied as business, politics and sports, individuals and other entities compete for limited resources, status and survival. Our will to win and our motivation to compete in these peripheral areas of our daily lives play an additional role, which benefits not only ourselves but others as well: They become mechanisms for creating value.
Winning is good. It’s what I focus on doing every day of my life — from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep. Certainly, if I could have things my way all the time, I would win every bid, every contract, every negotiation. But it doesn’t always work out that way, does it?
Legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi, once said, “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit.” Then he added, “Unfortunately, so is losing.”
Lombardi understood that losing was sometimes inevitable. Despite our best efforts; despite all our careful planning and preparation, at times we simply fall short. But we don’t have to like it. In fact we should hate losing lest we turn it into a habit. The moment we accept losing, we’re done.
So what are we to do about losing when we know it’s both inevitable and at the same time unacceptable? We use it. When our only option in the future is to win, there can be no more powerful motivator than the unacceptable taste of defeat. The key is knowing how to lose.
Though I’m constantly reminding myself of this all important truism for my own business, I can’t help but think back to the Miami Heat’s recent National Championship victory. Game 5 of the NBA Finals provided two of the best examples of knowing how to lose — and they came from opposite ends of the court.
Facing elimination, with just minutes left in the game and no chance of winning, Oklahoma City Thunder Coach Scott Brooks, called a timeout and taught his players how to lose. “Unfortunately we didn’t get it done this year. We’ve got a lot of work to do. There’s no way any of you guys should keep your head down. Keep it up. Keep doing what you’ve done. Build yourself up this summer and get better. That’s what we’re about. We’re about being together, we’re about playing for each other, and we’re about staying together as a family.
“One last thing, guys, we’re going to treat them like they’re the champions. After this game we’re going to walk over there and shake their hands and acknowledge every one of them. They beat us fair and square. No matter how badly that may hurt, they beat us fair and square. Give them credit, get off the court and we’ll meet back in the locker room. You’ve done a great job all year long. Unbelievable effort.”
His team may have lost the NBA Finals this year, but Scott Brooks is a true winner.
Even on the other end of the court, the winning end, where NBA Champion LeBron James and the Miami Heat celebrated their hard-fought victory, we saw the value of knowing how to lose.
“It took me to go all the way to the top and then hit rock bottom basically to realize what I needed to do as a professional athlete and as a person. The best thing that happened to me last year was us losing the Finals, you know, and me playing the way I played,” James said. “It was the best thing to ever happen to me in my career because basically I got back to the basics. It humbled me.”
Know how to lose. No matter where you are in your life today — whether you’re on top of the world or hitting rock bottom — use it all for good, for improving, for winning next time. You may be down right now, but you’re never out. Someone in sports once said, “Losing a game is heartbreaking. Losing your sense of excellence or worth is a tragedy.”
If you’ve been able to overcome losses in your business, I’d like to know about it. Write me an email and share your story.
Manny García-Tuñón is president of Lemartec, an international design-build firm headquartered in Miami.