Good Sportsmanship—Win to Win

racquetball equipment

Image by exfordy*

An enhanced edition of Imagination First, the book I wrote with Eric Liu in 2009, was published in paperback on April 26th. Watching it go out into the world a second time has prompted me to revisit the question: what kind of impact would I like the book to have?

A brief, breezy personal anecdote will illustrate the more serious point I want to reach. I used to play racquetball on a regular basis with two friends, a Ph.D. in psychology and an attorney. The psychologist’s strategy—which may or may not have had to do with his profession—was invariably to try to psyche his opponents out and make us play below our usual level. But when I competed against Joe, the attorney, he played with a healthy intensity that drove me to play better—which then led him to play even better. We pushed each other to improve our games, and no matter who won, that always felt pretty good.

On a similar note, I’ve heard businesspeople use the term “win to win” to refer to a mindset that focuses not on trouncing the competition, but on creating a larger situation of widespread innovation and prosperity. This is akin to Joe’s making me work hard on the racquetball court and raising his own performance in the process. I believe such a spirit of solidarity is essential if we as a nation are to overcome the 21st-century economic challenges posed by factors like globalization and technological change.

Imagination First argues that what matters more than isolated innovative acts (outdoing your competitor’s product, for instance) is “whether the ecosystem as a whole is richer in possibility, and whether the society we feed with our imagination enables all participants in the market … to participate to their fullest potential” (p. 21). I hope readers pay attention to this passage, because it articulates the attitude that informs the book. Eric and I are interested in a new behavioral model, one in which people—even those in competitive situations—inspire one another, and groundbreaking action begets groundbreaking action.

The potential results of all this? Higher standards in professional fields and deeper engagement on the part of potential innovators, which together lead to sustainable outcomes. Everybody wins.

*There is a Creative Commons license attached to this image.

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