Tag Archives: winning

Learning How To Lose

I ran my 16th marathon last Sunday (exactly to my target 4:00:00). Coincidentally I came across this paragraph from J.M. Coetzee:
“Sport teaches us more about losing than about winning, simply because so many of jus don´t win. What it teaches above all is that it is OK to lose. Losing is not the worst thing in the world, because in sports, unlike in war, the loser doesn´t get to have his throat cut by the winner.

Because that is the great lesson of the sport. You lose most of the time, but as long as you stay in the game there will always be a tomorrow, a fresh change to redeem yourself. “
J.M. Coetzee (Letter to Paul Auster, October 21, 2010)

Although I generally share the sentiment of Coetzee, where I differ is the line “it is OK to lose”. I think what sports teach us that it is never OK to lose, but it is normal to lose. There is a huge difference in that. Practicing sports helps us to deal with setbacks in life in general. It does not matter how many times you have been knocked down, it matters how many times you get up.

Whether it is my recreational running, weightlifting or pick-up basketball, I want to win. Depending on the sports it is against a real opponent, imaginary opponent or just myself, which I guess is a mixture of both. More often than not I´ll lose, but that does not mean the losing is ok. It happens, but you should not tolerate it. It just makes you want to win harder. I have never understood people who just run, or just play and don´t want to win.

If you do not care about losing or winning, you do not care about anything in life.

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Cultivating The Culture of Winning

I have been in different agencies during my career. Although the people and process were different, there has been one consistent trait in all of them:

The best agencies live on winning.

Sometimes that might result in competitive cutthroat environment, sometimes to a more collaborative family one and sometimes something in the middle. The latter traits are more around based on the personalities of the people, but the obsession of winning is universal.

As I have been always juggling between business and creativity I have enjoyed the winning from both of the angles. And that is how it should be. Great agencies have a culture that enjoys both creative and business wins. It is everyone´s responsibility to

1. Winning creatively

Great agencies live on pushing the boundaries and moving the needle to right direction. Regardless of the department you are working, doing great work should give you the biggest satisfaction. And if it doesn´t, you are probably in wrong line of work.

2. Winning new business

You are either hunter or a farmer. Both are needed, but nothing gives more jolt to the balls (so to speak) to agencies than winning new business. It is also totally vital for the agency as you always lose some older clients despite how good you are. New business gives the biggest buzz in the agency and the culture should embrace it.

Culture of winning is also a culture of trying, failing and coming back up. Winning mentality does not always mean winning. It just means that every time you step up to the court, you give everything you got and try to win by all means necessary. If it results to losing, you just get back up and try again.

It does not matter how many times you will be knocked down. It is how many times you get up.

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The Illusion of Hot Hand

I have been playing basketball nearly all my life. I also play in two teams here in Singapore and the quality of the basketball league and how good it has been organized, has been really positive surprise. Not that positive surprise has been my shooting game, which has been uneven to say at least.

I have not had “a hot hand”, like they say.

One of the common beliefs in basketball involves streak shooting: if you have made your last shot you are more likely to make your next shot. Those who have played NBA Jam in nineties, remember that the player was “on fire” after three straight shoots.

This “hot hand” is purely a myth.

Good last shot does not predict your next shot in any way. Actually you might be more likely to miss it. Numerous studies prove this point. Amos Tversky and Thomas Gilovich went through years of NBA team Philadelphia 76ers statistics. The conclusion: Every field goal attempt was its own independent event. Jay Koehler and Caryn Conley got the same result by observing NBA three-point shooting contest.

Ok, now I know the facts. Do I believe in hot hand?

You bet, I do.
(Like actually 91% of serious NBA fans)

“Hot hand” is not based on actual statistics. It is in your mind. When you have the feeling that you are “on fire”, you tend to play better. Because simple truth in basketball is: the more you shoot, the more you tend to score. Average field goal percentage in NBA is little bit below 30%. That means that even the best players in the world miss about two out of every three shots. You need to have the illusion of “hot hand” to keep yourself positive when missing all those shots.

Winning streaks do not limit only to basketball and other sports.

People try to find patterns in random events where they do not exist. I have heard from numerous ad people that when you start losing pitches they always come in three. The reality is that every pitch is its own independent event. If you feel that you are on the roll, the setbacks feel just random mishaps. And if you feel that you have “cold hand”, every loss fulfills your prophecy of losing streak. So to succeed in business, it is important to try to be in state of streak shooter and then go with that emotion. And when you encounter losses you have to remind your rational self about the statistics and just try again.

There is not anything wrong to believe in “hot hand”, just do not fall into superstition when you are not “on fire.”

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