March Madness is here. It comes with the infectious hype of great college basketball games, the Cinderella stories, the favorites falling, emotions running rampant, the pressure to perform on the big stage, and, of course, the brackets. It’s a lot like business.
Think about it this way: There are nine quintillion possible bracket configurations. That is the number nine followed by eighteen zeros representing who wins and who loses, who moves forward and who goes home. With the exhilaration of winning and the heartbreak of losing, we are pulled into the emotions. We become connected to the individuals’ and teams’ narratives. Whether you are a casual observer or a rabid fan, March Madness can assist you in answering this question: Do you hate to lose or do you love to win?
In the business of life, we face many days of perceived losing. Think about the time the competition received the sale. Think about the time you were overlooked or denied a promotion. Think about when a colleague presents your idea as their own. Think about when your to-do list grows faster than you can complete tasks. We have a natural tendency to compare and contrast ourselves to others. What we think we lack is heightened when we choose to view our circumstances through a losing lens where one team wins, and one team loses. Negative thoughts and feelings dominate. Losing is no fun.
Flip the coin and look at the winning mindset. Think about when your boss recognizes your performance over your colleagues. Think about beating the competition to a new market. When we excel or achieve, we can also get caught up in the compare and contrast mode. We can actually be quite judgmental in our achievements. We trade in our lack and scarcity thinking for believing we are superior and more deserving. However, feeling better than does not last long, and there is a perceived pressure to stay on top. Winning is not everything.
So if losing is no fun and winning is not everything, what else is there? We tend to think in binary terms where we only have and limit ourselves to two choices. Either we won the game or we lost and we go home. Either we got the sale or we did not. Either we made progress on our to-do list or we added to it. My boss recognized my accomplishments or my contributions were ignored. Either/or thinking sets us up to view circumstances which exist outside ourselves as a personal win or loss. When we win, we have more points than the other team. When we lose, we have less. Can we begin to look at situations in a more neutral way? And is the neutral way the way to go?
The neutral way frees us from compare and contrast thinking and the limiting mindset that we either lost or we won. Life and business are not a single bracket configuration with only one outcome to each game. So, how do we look at situations from a neutral perspective? The best advice I have come across is in the book, The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. Agreement number two states, “Don’t take things personally.” If you feel you are not being recognized by your boss, in no way are you diminished. Your contributions still count. Most times it is not about you at all.
Be careful to think of being in neutral as not moving forward or backward! Take time to be still. You can then create the space to expand your perspective. Look through a different lens. The lens that sees the perception of losing as an opportunity for learning. The lens that can recognize excellence as nothing more than having done your best. Neutral is the skill-building gear. Building skills requires being reflective. As we embrace self-awareness, we are able to exchange both the taking of things personally and the placing of blame for the opportunity to grow. This allows us to ease up on our tendency to control, and we can be more flexible in our thinking. More creative energy and ideas come from our expanded thinking. From my lens, what we are speaking of is what is referred to in business as having social and emotional intelligence.
Don’t get me wrong hating to lose can serve us at times, not only in March Madness, but also in business. And loving to win can be a motivating factor for surviving and advancing in the tournament, as well as experiencing the thrill of competing in business. The difference between March Madness and business goes back to those brackets. In March Madness, there will be an ultimate champion who will cut down the nets -- one finite winner. In business and life, we need to shed the label of winning and losing in such finite and final terms. Just like there are nine quintillion brackets, there are infinite possibilities for expansion and growth in business. There is a field of pure potentiality. There are more than enough customers, job opportunities, and financial possibilities.
Next time the feeling comes up that you just lost and you hate it or you feel you knocked it out of the park and you won, remember winning and losing come from within. Losing does not diminish and winning does not have to come at the expense of others. Motivational speaker and renowned Wharton professor, Adam Grant, who has energized the workplace by promoting his philosophy of collaboration states: “Competition often feels zero-sum, but it doesn't have to be. Even in individual sports, Olympic rivals train together and help one another in races. Life is a team sport. Surround yourself with people who elevate your game.”