Why Playing Not to Lose IS Losing


How playing it safe guarantees that you waste your life, your business and your potential

What do Blockbuster and the San Francisco 49ers have in common?

They both played not to lose. Therefore, they played safe. And consequently, both lost.

Blockbuster’s titanic faceplant with the allegorical iceberg, Netflix, is so synonymous with the danger of sticking to corporate status quo that if Aesop were alive today, its story would be a fable.

The 49ers had Super Bowl LIV in the palm of their hand. But when their 10-point lead became more precious than winning, the Kansas City Chiefs marched right past them to victory.

How do you know if you’re playing not to lose?

The external answer: Your competition is nipping at your heels.

The internal answer: You feel it.

Here are three gut feelings that let you know you’re playing not to lose.

1. You Feel Comfortable

The following phrases are commonly used by leaders and organizations as a tonic to alleviate the bitter taste that accompanies a lack of courage.

  • “This is how everyone else does it”
  • “It’s the way we have always done it”
  • “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”
  • “We’re already the best”

2. You Feel Like You Let Yourself Down

Recognize those little spurts of acid in your gut when you watch an opportunity pass you by. You think that’s fear, but it’s not–it’s shame. Like a soldier retreating from his battalion in the heat of combat, it’s your mind and body telling you you’re running from your responsibility of actualizing your capabilities.

3. You Use Denial and Justifications to Make Yourself Feel Better

I mean, what’s the harm? You’re still the same person as you were if you didn’t take that risk. So no, you didn’t win. But you also didn’t lose. Right?

What’s wrong with safety?

Inherently, nothing. Rather, it’s your relationship to it.

You see, safety is like water–it can keep you afloat, but it can also drown you.

So how do I play to win without being reckless?

First, playing to win is not the opposite of playing not to lose.

Second, innovation and risk are not synonymous with being reckless. Do you think Alex Honnold ascending El Capitan with no rope is being reckless?

1. Playing to Your Potential vs. Playing to Win

Most car companies focus externally to be better than other car companies. No one cares.

Tesla focuses internally to be better than they were yesterday. Everyone cares.

Those who desire to increase their value, to obliterate mediocrity, to ensure they’re not wasting their potential, don’t play to just win the game–they play to change their game and by doing so end up changing the game entirely.

2. Taking Chances vs. Being Reckless

How do you take chances without putting yourself or your company at risk? By making innovation a part of your environment.

Google has “20% time.”

Pixar uses centrally-placed bathrooms.

James Altucher encourages us to think of 10 new ideas each day.


Create an environment that promotes the realization of potential and not the maintenance of your current position and you will be blown away by what you or your company can achieve in a very short amount of time.

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