Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Do You Play To Win Or Not To Lose?

You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win. - Zig Ziglar

If you take no risks, you will suffer no defeats. But if you take no risks, you win no victories. - Richard M. Nixon

A few years ago, I walked into a car dealership, picked out a vehicle I wanted and asked the salesman for the best price he could give me.  We haggled for a while and then I thanked him and told him I would think about it.

I went to the dealership down the street and gave the second dealer the best price from the first dealer.  The second dealer gave me his best price and I told him I would text this to the first dealer if he didn’t mind.  The dealer agreed and after I sent the first dealer the new offer, the first dealer promptly texted me back with a better price.  I showed the text to the second dealer who promptly beat that deal (which I then texted to the first dealer) and a bidding war immediately ensued between both dealers with my phone as the conduit.

In the end, I purchased the vehicle from the second dealer for $110 over the rock-bottom price and as I left, the dealer looked at me and asked me if everyone bought cars like that where I came from.

We both laughed and I left.

The bottom line was that I had entered the negotiation to win and I played to win, whether it was buying a car as in this case or building successful companies.

However, most people don’t understand the difference between playing to win and playing not to lose.

For example, in Alberta, Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark, in a move of desperation to unite liberal voters who follow the Liberal and Alberta Party brands, offered a non-aggression pact between the two parties where the Alberta Party would not field candidates in certain ridings if the Liberal Party agreed to not field candidates in other ridings.

While Alberta Party strategy folks will insist that such coalition-focused strategy is the best way to offer opposition to the juggernaut presented by the ruling PC Party, it in fact is a non-sensical way of carving the liberal voters between the two parties and then rationalizing that by bringing the same voters back together, they somehow add up to more voters than they started with.

Not only does the math not make sense, in fact the strategy is one in which one is playing not to lose instead of playing to win.  Instead of establishing that he is a leader who would be so strong that the Liberals would be demanding he take over their party, Clark is soft-pedaling a solution that doesn’t help either party, thus weakening him in the public eye.

The approach reminds me of the young orphan in the Dickens’ classic Oliver who tentatively approaches the headmaster and timidly says “Please sir, more soup?”

While political “experts” may say that politics is different than other worlds and that this makes for good strategy, playing not to win is never a good strategy.


Well, that is unless one feels that pretending to be weak can be leveraged later in a surprise coup of some sort.

But at least one can fall back on cool posters when strategy is absent … posters like this one:

Winners: Because nothing says "you're a loser" more than owning a motivational poster about being a winner.

Winners: Because nothing says "you're a loser" more than owning a motivational poster about being a winner.

I’m not suggesting that Mr. Clark is a loser.  In fact, I believe that he is sharp strategically and tactically and that he is potentially the most capable leader of all the political parties in Alberta.

However, if one intentionally plays not to win or someone else convinces them to play in this way, such gifts are quickly wasted.

The Bottom Line

Do you play to win or do you play not to lose?

Do you know the difference?

Are you sure?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,



  1. Good post but there are a few things that need clarification. The Alberta Liberal Party approached the Alberta Party with a proposal of being nice to each other and asked that Alberta Party not run in the five ridings that are currently being held by sitting Alberta Liberal MLA's and in return offered five ridings where they felt the Alberta Party had a chance to win. The Alberta Party agreed to enter negotiations on the proposal as they are open to working with other parties but the Alberta Liberals decided to walk away from the proposal. This proposal would only be for an early election in 2015 as neither parties would be able to field a full slate of candidates. The Alberta Party defends the right of any member of the party to run in an off limits riding. The Alberta Party at the time has had no one interested in running in majority of the Alberta Liberal held ridings. This was not a proposal to take away voters options but an attempt to mount an effective opposition for an unnecessary election.

    1. Thanks for your kind comment, Robert - I always appreciate it when people take the time to offer clarification. I have had a few people representing each of the two parties claiming that "the other party" reached out, leaving things to be known by a select few. :-)

      Thanks again for your comment - create a great day!