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(206) 686-4400 ext. 13

Henley Leadership Group Blog

Stop Competing to Win


An evolutionary biologist at Purdue University named William Muir studied chickens. He was interested in productivity -- I think it's something that concerns all of us -- but it's easy to measure in chickens because you just count the eggs. He wanted to know what could make his chickens more productive, so he devised a beautiful experiment. Chickens live in groups, so first of all, he selected just an average flock, and he left it alone for six generations. But then he created a second group of the individually most productive chickens -- you could call them super chickens -- and he put them together in a super-flock, and each generation, he selected only the most productive for breeding.

After six generations had passed, what did he find? Well, the first group, the average group, was doing just fine. They were all plump and fully feathered and egg production had increased dramatically. What about the second group? All but three were dead. They'd pecked the rest to death. The individually productive chickens had only achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of the rest.”

Margaret Heffernan, TEDWomen, May of 2015:

 There are some companies who pride themselves on “eating their young.”  What this means over time is that creativity and innovation come to a standstill, or worse.  

 “Consider that Microsoft, according to a former company executive writing in the New York Times last year, developed a viable tablet computer more than a decade ago, but failed to pre-empt Apple’s smash hit because competing Microsoft divisions conspired to kill the project.”

Ibarra & Hansen, HBR article, “Are You a Collaborative Leader?” July – August 2011

 Is it time for us to evolve beyond competing at work?

 In Stephen Covey’s book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” he introduced the habit called, “Think Win-Win.”  He offers, “Think Win-Win isn't about being nice, nor is it a quick-fix technique. It is a character-based code for human interaction and collaboration.” 

"Most of us learn to base our self-worth on comparisons and competition. We think about succeeding in terms of someone else failing--that is, if I win, you lose; or if you win, I lose. Life becomes a zero-sum game. There is only so much pie to go around, and if you get a big piece, there is less for me; it's not fair, and I'm going to make sure you don't get anymore. We all play the game, but how much fun is it really?” 

To be good at engaging in win-win solutions, you must have:  

  1. Integrity: stick with your true feelings, values, and commitments
  2. Maturity: express your ideas and feelings with courage and consideration for the ideas and feelings of others
  3. Abundance Mentality: believe there is plenty for everyone

“Many people think in terms of either/or: either you're nice or you're tough. Win-win requires that you be both. It is a balancing act between courage and consideration. To go for win-win, you not only have to be empathic, but you also have to be confident. You not only have to be considerate and sensitive, you also have to be brave. To do that--to achieve that balance between courage and consideration--is the essence of real maturity and is fundamental to win-win.”

 Working from a “win-win” paradigm invites us to think bigger.  Often, win-lose ideas come fastest and first.  Win-win options take a little more brain power.  The good news is that most of us love a good challenge.  Can you identify opportunities for cooperation and partnership instead of competing to win?