Winning at all costs: Is it worth it?
In American football, Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi, famously said: “Winning is the only thing that matters.” But is winning at all costs really worth it? And is winning more important than the learning that happens on the journey?
I ran middle distance competitively in high school. I remember one particular Saturday morning track meet at the Germiston Stadium as clearly as if it were yesterday. One of the fathers was shouting at his sevenyear-old son during his sprint race, “Jannie, run faster! You must win this! No TV for you this week if you don’t win!” Jannie gave it everything he had, his small face bloodred with the effort, but it wasn’t enough for his father. Jannie came second.
His father shouted at him so loudly and got so flustered that he looked as though he would burst a blood vessel. He stormed off the track, leaving Jannie in tears on the podium, throwing his second place medal on the ground as if it was a virus. Although I was only 16 at the time, my immediate thoughts were: “This can’t be healthy. Jannie is just a seven-year-old kid, not a professional athlete! If his father is already obsessed with
winning at this young age, Jannie will end up hating running and wasting his talent. And he will end up losing his father in the process. Is winning really worth it?”
WINNING AT ALL COSTS
This fixation with winning at all costs is as unhealthy in business as it is in personal relationships, like Jannie’s with his father. Why is it important that we stop our unhealthy focus on “winning is everything”?
Large organisations such as Enron rose to power through this win-at-all-costs outlook, only to come crashing down when the magnitude of its deception became known. The out
come? Yes, the company’s leaders suffered as they should have, but the damage was much more widespread: 20 000 employees lost their jobs and they lost billions in pension and retirement funds. Investors lost $11bn as Enron’s stock plummeted.
Apple is another powerful example. Apple has grown into one of the most powerful, richest and successful companies worldwide, partly by mastering global manufacturing. However, at whose expense? In 2006, news broke that, in China’s iPod-producing factories of Apple’s supplier Foxconn, workers laboured in sweatshop conditions. They were paid around $100 per month and worked more than 60 hours a week, while severe – sometimes deadly –– safety issues prevailed. Although Apple executives say the company has made significant improvements in factories in recent years, subst a ntia l problems st i l l remain. In 2011 Apple admitted there were more and more child labourers in its factories. Sadly, Apple is not the only electronics company with a worrying supply c hain. Poor working