Is Success A Zero Sum Game?


Is success a zero sum game?  When I sit down to write my blog each week, sometimes I don’t know what I will write about.  This morning was one of those days.  I checked my email and saw a note from my favorite photographer David duChemin.  David is an incredibly talented photographer.  He also has the best perspective I’ve come across about the process of making art.  David was very upset by a letter from another professional photographer.  The person was complaining about the amateurs who are taking all the revenue out of the market.  David described this mindset as a zero sum game.  There is a fixed amount of value, and if you win, I lose.

If I win do you lose?

I agree with David and not only in the photography world.  This is so true in the business world.  I was leading a workshop this week with the extremely talented leadership team at Lane Powell.  We talked about the concept of increasing the size of the pie instead of worrying about the size of our slice.  They knew what I meant.  We are at our best when we are all performing at our best.  The alternative is to pit people against each other in a competitive game of diminishing overall returns.

Being generous

When I started my company Oyster, I had no clients.  I needed to get some and quickly.  Knowing my situation, so many experienced coaches were delighted to help me and share their experience.  Several even gave me leads.  This generosity was incredible to me.  They know coaching is not a zero sum game.  If we all get better, we can serve more leaders, create more value in the world and grow the pie for everyone.  This continues today and now I can help share my experience with coaches who are starting out.

David’s note struck a chord with me, what situations I am looking at through a zero sum lens?  Where can I increase the size of the pie by encouraging, collaborating and partnering with others?

If you are feeling stuck or in a mood of resignation, it is time to change your lens.  If your world is full of unlimited opportunities, what will you do differently?  What small step will you take to explore this unlimited world of possibilities?  You might think this is unrealistic happy talk because your world is different.  Is part of the reason your market is shrinking because others have an unlimited mindset?  Is it time you stopped playing a zero sum game?