Quit Playing the Zero Sum Game

Either/or is a false choice. Quit buying into it.

The assumption that the only way for one side/organization/person to win is for someone else to lose is a zero sum game that puts self-imposed limits on you and your people. That kind of short-term, scarcity mentality falsely assumes that the “rules of the game” will always stay the the same . . . that there are no opportunities to do things differently. Really?

If the pandemic has taught us nothing else, we should all be clear that the parameters we face are certainly subject to change, and there are opportunities to approach our work in a totally different way.  And that is a good thing. There is no single structure we have to work within, with a finite number of resources and the only way I can gain is for you to lose. If that is your perspective, chances are you have already lost . . . the chance to create something with an impact far beyond today’s standards . . . the opportunity to collaborate with others to create a sum greater than the individual parts . . . the ability to engage your staff in making your “what-ifs” a reality.

Refusing to play a zero sum game doesn’t mean things will be easy, or that they will happen quickly or without hard choices. That’s another fallacy of scarcity thinking . . . that those who are optimistic, who have an abundance mentality, are simply unrealistic dreamers who don’t understand the real risks being faced by the organization. Actually, just the opposite it true. The only way to attain the lofty goals set by the optimist is to be brutally honest about the current reality. So how do you move from zero-sum thinking to a perspective that strives toward more abundant possibilities?

1. Set a clearly defined target. It was hard to misinterpret President Kennedy’s goal to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. There were likely many who had worked in “the system” for years who felt such a lofty vision was impossible, and yet eight years later, that goal was achieved.

2. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted. A whole host of concerns, objections, alternate suggestions, as well as a multitude of competing demands will cry for your attention. Also, don’t be surprised if you get pushback from those operating with the current system who experience the same challenges and frustrations you, but who don’t want to or can’t see a way to change. If you rewrite the rules of engagement, that affects them too. So many ways to get distracted, and yet keeping focused on your target is critical to success.

3. Recognize that set-backs are part of the process. Achieving something new, committing to a win-win, changing calcified systems, are hard things. It takes time and effort and rarely happens in a straight line. Try, learn, adjust and take the next step. Most “big steps forward” happen as a result of an untold number of little steps and quite a few stubbed toes. No, it’s not easy . . . but important goals are worth the effort.

Want to accomplish more for your people, your organization and your mission? Then quit playing the zero sum game.

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