I was watching a hockey game the other day when I overhead a little girl ask her mother, “What happens if nobody wins?” And with a shrug, the mother answered, “Somebody always wins, honey.” Which got me thinking.
A la Jerry Seinfeld, what’s the deal with winning? There’s always got to be a winner, whether in sports, politics — even merging into traffic. Why does winning hold so much power for human beings? Especially humans of the dude variety. Ever notice that interest in professional sports rose as the opportunities for men to go to war decreased? I’m just sayin’…
Winning is held in such esteem that a tie, where there is no clear victor, leads to “sudden death.” As in, the battlefield death of the vanquished. Would it be different if we called the tie-breaking overtime outcome “sudden victory”? Feels much less satisfying, no?
Earlier in the week I spoke with a man who is considering starting his own business in an industry he knows extremely well. We discussed the competitive landscape and he noted that the industry leader is known for cut-throat tactics and a lack of integrity. “I don’t want my company to be like that,” he said. “But, can I be successful if I’m not number one?”
Author and tech marketing guru Geoffrey Moore says you can, if you’re smart. He says there are three different kinds of players in a competitive market: Gorillas, Chimps and Monkeys.
Gorillas are the segment leaders, whose products become the industry standard. Think Coca-Cola. Chimps are the challengers — think Pepsi. And Monkeys are the guys who follow along in the market, aping the Gorillas and Chimps, often positioning themselves as unique or offering excellent customer service to get business. Think Cadbury-Schweppes.
In business as in sports, we think we have to be a Gorilla to be successful. But monkeys can make great businesses. Sure, Coke’s market cap is nearly $137 billion, but Schweppes? There are plenty of bubbles in ginger ale, friends — $23 BILLION worth of bubbles.
And you can’t tell me that ain’t a successful business.
“Winning’s not everything, it’s the only thing,” said legendary coach Vince Lombardi. Uh huh. Guess it depends on how you define winning. Because being Number Three, the $23 billion dollar Monkey, can be extremely satisfying. Considering the energy needed to maintain Gorilla status, being a Monkey — doing what you love and doing it well, sounds pretty appealing.
Pressuring yourself to always be the winner can lead to incredible stress. And, as the New England Patriots proved, nobody wins all the time. Some of the best learning I ever had, in fact, was working on a losing Presidential campaign. Sure, winning would have been great — but I learned how to handle defeat somewhat gracefully. I learned about what works, and what doesn’t, in campaigns. I learned about loyalty, and friendship. I learned just how far I can be pushed, physically, emotionally and mentally. I learned about what’s really important.
Which is worth the market capitalization of Coca-Cola to me.
The next time you find yourself driving yourself (or your kids, or your work group, or your spouse) to be the Gorilla, ask yourself this: Is winning worth being completely stressed out? What’s to be learned from doing my absolute best, even if I’m not the Gorilla? Can I be content with being a very successful, centered, happy Monkey?
I say: pass the bananas, baby, ‘cuz the world needs more happy monkeys.