Losing for the win

At the dojo

Last night at the Boston Martial Arts Center I had an interesting experience while coaching one of the green belt students on some avoidance techniques. The drill was simple: I swung at the student with a foam-padded bopper and after avoiding a relatively slow swing, they had to hit a padded target. It’s a drill of avoidance and footwork on one hand, and accuracy on the other. The drill encourages not only good technique, but presence of mind – you can’t just wildly avoid or you’ll be out of position for the target hitting.

What was interesting to me wasn’t the drill itself but two insights I had. The first insight was that I had to strongly resist my own urge to “win”, to hit the student with the foam stick. That wasn’t the point of the drill, and initially, my own ego and desire to “win” by the conventional definition (hit them with the bopper) was quite strong. It took me a good minute or two before we started to put myself in the right frame of mind, that I was there to help the student first and foremost, and to appropriately move at a speed that insured more success than failure, while not eliminating the chance for failure.

The second insight, which was part of that reframing, was that “winning” in this case wasn’t hitting the student with the bopper. Winning was actually “losing” the majority of the time for my role as the attacker. If I was not able to hit them the majority of the time, if I was able to have them succeed first and foremost, that was the true win, the win in the bigger picture. They’d walk away with more skill, more insight of their own, and more happiness rather than walk away demoralized or ashamed of their performance. In this case a narrow-minded personal “win” would have been a failure on my part as a coach and a failure on the part of the student.

When I look over my career, this is a pattern writ large. Those times that have been the most fruitful and the most successful were when I put a bigger picture win ahead of a narrow-minded personal win. When you help create success in others, they root for your success and actively look for ways to help you achieve it. Those times that have been the most stressful and unpleasant were because I created selfish success at the expense of others. In a world where you are the platform, creating situations where people don’t want to see you succeed is tantamount to career suicide, while creating situations where people are actively and eagerly supporting you is a rocketship to the top.

The challenge I continue to face is whether my ego is willing to lose small for the big win.


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What Warcraft teaches us about group vs. individual performance

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I finally got to and through the first wing of Throne of Thunder on my Worgen hunter recently, the newest raid in World of Warcraft. One of the most challenging parts of this particular set of raids is that the responsibility for the health of your character and her continued survival isn’t left solely to the healers. On many of the fights (Horridon comes to mind), there’s simply too much going on for a team of healers to keep pace and keep everyone topped off, so you have to make tactical decisions on the fly about dealing damage at peak performance and risking being killed, or spending some of your time, attention, and resources to keep yourself alive at the cost of individual performance.

Though the answer might seem obvious (you do zero damage on the boss when you’re dead), a significant number of players inevitably end up very dead because they are unwilling to make the tradeoff between individual and group performance. For some, it’s a matter of ego: they need to try to be at the top of the damage scoreboard to satisfy their need for recognition. For others, it’s a shirking of responsibility or an opportunity to assign blame: healing is the job of the healers only, and if their character dies, it’s the fault of the healers. Blizzard’s design of the raid intentionally forces you to either accept some responsibility for yourself or perish. If you don’t, and if enough people don’t, you wipe and the giant dinosaur gets to dance on your corpses.

This is the trade that Blizzard forces you to realize: at the end of the fight, either the boss is down or you are. It doesn’t matter what the damage meter says if you wipe: everyone gets a repair bill, and no one gets loot. If you take responsibility for yourself, if you help out your healers, if you put the collective goal of a dead boss first, then your individual numbers will be lower but the healers will be able to keep the entire raid operational long enough to outlast the boss, and you get to dance on its corpse and take its shiny loot. The group wins.

There is, of course, a balance as well. If you spend too much time mitigating damage and focusing on overall utility rather than dealing damage, at some point the boss enrages and eats everyone. Everyone has to hit minimum damage dealing numbers in order to kill the boss before time runs out.

The corporate world is surprisingly similar: you have to, at times, switch up what you’re doing for the benefit of the entire team, even if it temporarily reduces your individual performance. For example, in my work at SHIFT Communications, a significant minority of my time is spent teaching, training, and sharing knowledge internally. Doing so reduces my individual productivity, but increases the overall capability of the organization. At the end of the day, my individual performance matters less if the organization as a whole suffers; I’ve worked at companies in the past where star performers led the company right off a cliff.

Once you hit the numbers you need to hit in order to meet the goals and performance expected of you, what do you do next? Do you strive for ever greater personal performance? Do you look to overall team performance? How do you find your own balance between individual and team performance?


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How to pack a suit in a roller bag

One of the banes of travel for me has traditionally been the garment bag, which has been a royal pain in the butt. It’s large and unwieldy, it fits poorly in overhead compartments, and it gets jostled and crushed so much in the travel process that the garments inside don’t arrive any less wrinkled. I figured there had to be another way to get your clothing from point A to point B without arriving looking like a refugee from Wrinklestan, and I found one after asking YouTube from the folks at PackingLight.com. Check out this method! I managed to get 4 days of business clothes (including 2 suits and 3 dress shirts) to San Francisco and needed almost no straightening or ironing when I arrived.

How to pack a bag with a lot of clothing:

How to add a suit on top and make it arrive in decent condition:

Give it a try – I did and I’m sold on the method now.


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