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Beware the Big Wins

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Successful learning

Recently published research suggests smiling excessively in victory can lead to defeat in the next round. 

There may be something to it. The results, yet to be widely repeated, touch a nerve. I do know that in business the after-effects of a big win can be dangerous.

Sometimes, things have played to my strengths and there’s been a great result. But there are also times when people think I’ve been clever, when in fact I’ve just been lucky.

It’s okay for them to think that. I don’t mind it myself. Yet it’s not necessarily good for me. I need to move on to my next project unclouded by any belief that I’m automatically on a roll. 

Why is that?

The history of failure is littered with people whose belief in their own brilliance took them a bridge too far. Think Napoleon Bonaparte or Lehman Brothers.

It’s not just a matter of believing in your own amazing talent. Thinking you have to somehow be innately good at things can be self-defeating. It limits your vision and stops you from learning. In many ways, the smarter you are, the more you have to learn. It keeps you growing and stops you from stalling.

Another study, by American academic, Heidi Halvorson, shows people who think they should be good at things, or think that they are, perform worse than people who think they are getting better at things. 

It stands to reason. The former is an ego proposition that shuts off growth, whereas the latter measures improvement — people assess themselves against their progress and look for more.

Blind confidence makes speed bumps more serious. If you think you need to be good, the more disappointed you will be when you face situations or challenges where you are not.

People who measure their advance consistently lift their game. There is  a unique value in seeking out new ways of doing things or asking for help. It gets you off you and into the liberation and uplift of curiosity. Staying inquisitive boosts your mental and emotional capacity. 

Learning, like travel, expands the mind rather than exhausts it. Click here to watch Halvorson's take on this.

Where does it apply in business?

Promotions, for one. They are usually a win. But although you’ve been asked to head up the team, it doesn’t mean you are suddenly a great captain. Leadership is a work in progress. Don't be fearful of the challenge. Use the promotion to get better at it. 

Business startups are another. It’s a buzz when you get funding, but keep moving. Once your idea has got momentum, keep making improvements before someone else does. James Dyson spent years fixing ineffective prototypes before his remarkable vacuum cleaner finally got traction. He hasn’t stopped. The product keeps evolving. 

It’s an attitude that goes beyond business. What would you rather do: spend time proving you are good at things, or spend time improving how good you can be?

Reader Comments (2)

That is good and getting better!

June 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKen

Another great blog Alan - always concise and pithy wise words enhanced with Patrick's clever cartoons. Heidi's 'get better' mindset reminds us to get curious and focus on continuous improvement - I know I'm a work in progress :)

June 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterYvonne Collier

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