Winning or learning?


Tim Gallwey, who wrote The Inner Game books, once hosted a corporate tennis tournament for a client. But he introduced a radical twist to the knockout contest - theloserof each match proceeded to the next round. This really messed with convention, and forced everyone to question what really mattered about the game. Gallwey's disruption challenged everyone to think of the real purpose of the competition: learning rather than winning. 

The executives did not reduce the tournament to a kind of foolish pantomime of deliberate errors. They still did their best, but experienced a useful detachment from competitive victory.

One of the things we often learn from our action storming process for difficult conversations is that trying to win the argument usually makes things worse. We get seduced into point scoring which escalates the conflict. Funnily enough, when we try less hard to win, we're far more likely to make breakthroughs that get past the fight.

Many of the games we use for training can be played ruthlessly to "win" or more collaboratively. In these improv games the win is essentially trivial. This raises interesting  questions about why many of us default to working so ruthlessly to achieve it - and what it's really like to win. Winning often feels quite isolating and ends the game  - and the exploration that goes with playing. On the other hand, failure often feels more connecting - we all recognise the shared struggle and the possibility of getting things wrong. 

We sometimes ask, "what if instead of focussing on 'winning' the current game, we look for ways to keep the game open and see what we can learn from it?" 

This focus on learning rather than winning encourages us to lean into difficulties and see what can be learned from them, rather than rushing to dismiss them.

When meetings fixate on getting through the agenda, this becomes another kind of attempt to 'win'. We often find more reflective processes create more useful insights about the issue at hand. It turns out that these help to change perspectives on what the group wants to achieve - and this often leads to much wiser action.

Having run dozens of unhurried conversations, we have seen that groups can connect more deeply over sharing struggles and difficulties - rather than reaching fo simplistic solutions.

Photo by Raj Eiamworakul on Unsplash