You can't win by playing not to lose

On Sunday I commence a two week mini-sabbatical in Europe and the link between leadership and culture will be my focus.  My bags are bulging with literature to review, and my calendar is lightly peppered with interviews with the great and the good. 

But that is tomorrow, and today is….well today is time to visit ‘home.’

No trip back to the UK at this time of year is complete without a visit to Cardiff. February marks the commencement of Six Nations rugby tournament, and this years kicks of with Wales playing Ireland.

The blood and thunder clash between the Celtic Dragon and the Celtic Tiger was predicted to be tight.

But when your companions include spouse and three generations of immediate friends and relations, well, life seems pretty much complete, regardless of the product of the pitch.  Which is just as well. The product was lousy.

Watching Wales play in the first half was reminiscent of Russian literature; the odd ember of hope occasionally puncturing long periods of despair—all of which destines to go on without end.

Half time: Wales 3, Ireland 23.

Oh dear. We watched the lily livered Welsh supporters, born in Ely but now living in Esher, turn up their sheepskin collars and head back to Paddington. 

But the Jenkins', Davies' and Snowden clans stayed on.  Besides, we’d bought cheap non-refundable train tickets so we couldn’t leave for another three hours anyway.

And what a treat was served those who remained faithful. If the first half was Tolstoyian, the second half was the fight scene from the Quiet Man.  No quarter given, no quarter sought—but played with a ferver and form unique to this specific fixture.  Battle bruisers on field, comrades-in-arms on the final whistle.

For a Welshman, the match had no fairy tale ending, alas. But it was close. Very close.

But there was some upside. The performance supplied more self-belief to take forward to France next week, and the players have seven days to address the burning question, “why didn’t we play like that from the beginning?”

Here’s the answer.

You can win by playing not to lose. 

You cannot be tentative.  You cannot be cautious. You can be prudent, you can be decisive. But you can't move forward by standing still.

You have to be purposeful, probing and confident; you have to be advancing in some way all of the time. Otherwise, stay off the park. (Note to NFL fans: Defence only wins championships if you score more points than the opposition.)

Recall the American Ryder Cup team entering the final day of the competition.  Standing at 10-6, they only needed 41/2 points to win.  The combined tour wins by the individuals representing the USA was superior to those playing for Europe.  The American captain said the strategy of the day was to ‘secure the win,’—and thus started the erosion. 

Advancement and development of individuals, organisations or countries requires confidence and conviction—and a recognition that this puts some of current successes at risk. But if you want move forward, you have no choice.  

Big companies wither when they play not to lose.  

Remember. It's great to visit a museum, but you shouldn’t want to live there.