Why Winning is for Losers

 When most people hear the name John Wooden, they think of the coach that led UCLA to 10 national championships in 12 years. Or the coach that won a record 88 consecutive games. Or the man that won coach of the year honors six times.

No one epitomized winning better than John Wooden. Which makes it all the more fascinating that he said this in his autobiography:

“In all my years of coaching I rarely, if ever, even uttered the word win … or exhorted a team to be number one. Instead, my words and actions always reflected my father's advice to me and that is never cease trying to be the best you can become.”

It turns out Wooden was more concerned about improving than winning.

I wonder if we as marketers would be better served if we focused more on improving.

Traditional goal setting techniques have trained us to set and pursue achievement goals, like winning. Or losing 20 pounds, retiring by the age of 50, or increasing sales by 7%. Throw out a hard-to-reach number and see how far you get. So the theory goes.

Unfortunately, achievement goals -- while better than having no goals at all -- can set people up for failure down the road. The longer it takes to reach them, the more likely it is for frustration to set in. Either the goals are abandoned or the tactics to reaching those goals will be discarded and replaced before any real progress can take shape. Maybe that’s why most people are suckers for the latest fad diet or why CMOs switch ad agencies so frequently.

We like Wooden’s model better.

Rather than setting achievement goals, consider setting developmental goals. Instead of using words like “achieve,” “increase,” or “attain,” articulate goals with words like “learn,” “understand,” or “improve.” For instance, rather than stating a goal as “Increase market share by 3%” a developmental goal might be expressed as “Better understand how our advertising dollars can be used to increase market share.”

The beauty of a well crafted developmental goal is that while it establishes a direction, it activates an organization to focus on ways to improve rather than fixating on assigning blame for why a goal wasn’t reached.

Let’s make the journey, rather than the destination, our ultimate goal. That is if we really want to get to the destination.