Losing is winning, it just doesn’t feel like it in the moment.
During a recent basketball playoffs, the coach of the defeated team was asked about how he felt about losing the championship. He replied, “Of course, I feel bad.” The question wasn’t whether he felt bad, because naturally one would feel bad after climbing so close to the ultimate victory and having it slip away. The real question is not if he felt bad, but why?
People don’t like losing, and that’s perfectly natural. Millions of years of evolution have made winning a survival trait. In modern life, our natural competitive survival skills are now refocused to less critical matters — sports, gambling, corporate ladder-climbing — but we have the same inherited reaction. Losing feels bad.
In some instances, like the case of that basketball coach, people might feel bad because they don’t think they did their best. The center of human happiness is having a sense of value, and when you feel like you could or should have tried harder, that sense of value diminishes.
In other cases, losing harks back to another primitive survival instinct: People who weren’t on top ate less, did all the dirty work and had limited choices in mates. Losing fires up some ancient and instinctive animosity.
But losing, like all elements of existence, is largely a matter of perspective.
To lose is to win
“Larry is a failure in everything except life.” This line, from an otherwise forgettable romantic comedy, exposes that what people, and even entrepreneurs, fear is often not worth fearing. When viewed through a wide-angle lens, most failures are either trivial or helpful. For business leaders, failure should be understood and embraced for the following reasons:
To try is to succeed: The only people or organizations that truly fail are those that don’t try. An amputee competed in a semi-pro athletic reality TV show recently. He was destined to not win the gold, but the audience cheered him on enthusiastically, because having the guts to try was more important than the final outcome. Likewise, you might fail at being No. 1 in your market, defeating a competitor, or even building a company. But not trying ensures failure.
To fail is to learn: “I have not failed,” said famed inventor Thomas Edison. “I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Failure is educational; at the very least it eliminates the wrong approaches to solving a problem. Since the probability of success equals 1 minus the probability of failure [p(s) = 1- p(f)], the more paths to failure you identify and eliminate, the greater your chances of eventually succeeding.
To learn is to succeed in the future: Instinct is an educated hunch. The sum of your experiences, what you have learned, leads you to make rapid and seemingly instinctive decisions about what to do next. Failure prepares you and your organization to succeed through sharpened insight and intuition.
Raymond D. "Ray" Zinn is an inventor, an entrepreneur and the longest-serving CEO of a publicly traded company in Silicon Valley. He is known best for conceptualizing -- and in effect inventing -- the wafer stepper and for co-founding semiconductor company Micrel (acquired by Microchip in 2015), which provides essential components for smartphones, consumer electronics and enterprise networks. He served as CEO, chairman of the board and president of Micrel from the time of its inception in 1978 until its acquisition in 2015.