If You Know When You're Going to Lose, You're Closer to Winning Than Everybody Else
If there is one thing I have learned over 30 years after starting my own business, it is that in order to succeed you have to build meaningful relationships with partners and potential partners. And if you want to understand the formula to winning (i.e. growing your business), then you have to find ways to bring value to those relationships.
But be prepared to lose. And lose a lot.
Give to give and expect nothing back.
When you find people you believe can help your business grow, you need to stop yourself. You need to concentrate on the value you can give to that person on a continual basis. You need to ask yourself, How can I help this person?
A key point here -- it's not just about the companies that can help your company, but the people that work at the companies that align well with yours. As much as technology has taken over everything we do these days, there is still nothing better than person-to-person interaction.
Get used to giving more than you get in return. Trust me, it's not the other way around -- there's no one out there that is going to be receptive to an ask more so than something that helps him. That's just the nature of how things work. If you are only doing something for someone with the intent of getting something in return, people see through that fairly quickly, and they are going to be able to easily decipher whether you are genuinely interested in who they are and what they offer, or if you just want something from them. (Plus, it actually feels good to do good things for good people.)
Only after you have put the time behind getting to know someone and understanding her business, along with her goals, do you have any chance of getting to the negotiating table. And that could come months, or even years, down the line.
Winning is not the opposite of losing.
Earlier in my career, I didn't brace myself for the increased losing that went along with increased winning. When I sold Steiner Sports to Omnicom, all of a sudden we had an increased level of flexibility with staffing and player signings. We increased our staff by 50 percent, only to see the majority of them walk out the door over the next few years because they were unhappy. We signed a bunch of players to memorabilia contracts that were just too lofty to see significant profit in the long run.
Things I thought were a complete no-brainer in the moment ended up being complete duds in those first two years. In my failures, I learned the importance of finding the right people and helping them to grow. I learned why it was important to do a better job of forecasting sales and negotiate the right way when it came to player contracts. And maybe the most important thing I learned was to know when to say no, and not just sign a player because that's the topical name of the time. Sometimes the numbers just don't add up.
Remember, winning really is all about growth. And that means long-term growth. A lot of businesses may find early, massive successes in terms of capitalizing on a "hot market" situation and making millions. But a couple years later, they may struggle and perhaps file for bankruptcy. That doesn't sound like success to me.
All of those things probably come to mind. But there's a history there. The bustling startup of the 1970s gained early momentum through the creation of truly unique, game-changing products. But Steve Jobs, a name that's become synonymous with success, was fired from the company in 1985 and by the end of his 12-year hiatus in 1997 when he was re-hired, the company reported a $161-million quarterly loss. Despite the struggles, that time was important both for Apple and for Jobs personally. It was a time to reflect, learn from mistakes, understand the market, discover the needs of consumers and pivot in a new direction. In a commencement speech at Stanford in 2005, Jobs said his firing "was the best thing that could have ever happened to me."
I have been fortunate in my career to spend some time with NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. Sure, he had a lot of winning in his career -- three NCAA championships at UCLA, six NBA championships, 19 NBA All-Star selections, six NBA MVPs, the NBA's all-time leading scorer. Something he has always said is "You can't win unless you learn how to lose." He had a tough upbringing, growing up in the projects in Harlem in New York City. When he went to a boarding school in Pennsylvania, his classmates taunted him and would beat him up. It wasn't until he navigated through his trials and tribulations growing up and found basketball that he found success.
It's true in sports, but also in business, that understanding what losing feels like can be somewhat therapeutic. Motivation is never lacking when you have a goal, fail to reach that goal and then have the opportunity to reset and re-establish what it will take to reach your goal.
Abdul-Jabaar experienced a high level of success early in his career. In just his second season in 1971, he won his first NBA championship, but things only got more difficult from there. After a lack of success over the next few years, he demanded a trade out of Milwaukee, ultimately landing with the Los Angeles Lakers, where the team went through growing pains, finally meshed and Abdul-Jabaar secured his second championship ... nine years later.
Sure, Abdul-Jabaar won big early on, but he didn't achieve sustained success on a team level until his eleventh year in the NBA.
Dream big. Sample small. Fail quick.
When you want to get to the negotiating table, you give yourself permission to dream big. That gives you a purpose, a goal. The reality is that everything starts with a purpose.
Your purpose is your long-term goal, the thing that keeps driving you on a daily basis to do whatever it is you want to do. If you did a rewind to five years ago and looked at your goals right now in this moment, you may think to yourself, How am I going to do that? You would be surprised what can happen just when you ask questions.
You may ask 1,000 questions and only think you're moving in the right direction with 10 of those. But what if you didn't ask any questions at all? And what did you learn from the 990 that were a "no"?
Can you rattle off the top of your head the list of the five people in the world that would have the greatest positive impact on your business? If you don't have that list, you should start working on it.
Success is always going to be predicated on your ability to visualize your success and then work backwards. If you sell T-shirts in Des Moines and building a relationship with the local radio station would mean you could increase your business by tenfold, find out who the right people are to get you on air. If you have developed a new, energy-efficient and environmentally safe method to creating cell phone batteries, figure out a way to get a sit-down with Tim Cook.
No matter whom you are trying to reach, or what company you want to get in your corner, don't put all your chips in the pot if you don't have to. Know when to cut your losses and scale back. And, make sure you are giving yourself enough time and resources to do it all again.
Winning and losing is a matter of perspective.
If you win 51 percent of the time and lose 49 percent, you're a winner. For perspective, if you fail 70 percent of the time as a hitter in baseball for your career, you would be considered a Hall of Famer.
If the best pitcher in the game just struck you out and your teammate that is up next in the order never got a chance to face him before, who do you think has a better chance at a hit next? You do, because you have already had the experience of a failure and you can make an adjustment to your approach at the plate. So get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Did you know Marvel filed for bankruptcy? That's hard to remember after $15 billion in worldwide revenue for 19 movie projects over the last 10 years.
Even The Walt Disney Company barely survived, scraping together enough cash in 1938 to produce Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Are you ready to selflessly offer value to others? Are you willing to ask questions? Are you prepared to lose? Are you comfortable knowing that achieving sustained success is a journey of highs and lows?