You can't win by playing not to lose

I sat down earlier today to watch Wales play rugby against Argentina at the kick-off the ‘Autumn series’.

The Autumn Series is, perhaps, the highlight of the annual rugby calendar. It is the time when Southern hemisphere teams come North to do battle, and it is, outside of the quadrennial World Cup, the only true indicator of pecking order within the rugby playing nations. This particular series has extra spice, as the results will inform seeding for the next World Cup.  

In an established ritual I donned my Welsh shirt, refilled my cup with Sicilian espresso, and opened up a skype link with my Father.  Thanks to modern technology, we continue a tradition of being together for rugby internationals despite being 3000 miles apart.

Hopes for a win were high. The Welsh team has been the best performing of the Northern hemisphere teams of late (in all senses of the word), and it has been eleven years since Argentina have last won at Cardiff.  The from book and omens were favourable for a Welsh win—but the display and final result were disappointing.

Despite being blessed with a pedigree to play sparkling rugby, the Welsh team performed like flat champagne.  They were outclassed and outplayed by an Argentinian team which demonstrated initiative and inventiveness. The Welsh team had played not to lose and were outmuscled and outrun by an Argentinian team who played to win.  

If you have the basics to participate, the real competitive advantage is in the head. The recent win by Europe in the Ryder Cup is one recent example. Heavily behind on the Saturday night, the European team came back to win, Lazurus-like, on the Sunday. They playied attacking golf and by taking the initiative, they built momentum and confidence. NB: attacking does not mean reckless.

Too often we turn down the wick on the activities that have brought us success. Frightened that we might lose what we have gained, we bind our safe-to-fail mentality and thus mummify initiative and ambition. Yet, paradoxically, it is during the time of plenty when we are best positioned to be probing and pushing and testing.  

This is the time when have the resources to amplify successful experiments. This is the time when we have the ability to survive failure. It is also the time when we were maximally developing ourselves and others—including our customers.

If we don’t ‘go forward’ we atrophy and decline.  We then resort to desperate throws of the dice, resorting to ‘big bets’ at a time when we have the least resilience. Look at RIM/ Blackberry as an example. Companies who are heavily in debt typically display this type of behaviour as do, sadly, individuals shackled with similar obligations.

If you’re ahead, be the leaders and keep the initiative. You can't win by playing not to lose.