Are You Playing To Win or Playing to Not Lose?

Published on January 17, 2013 by

Since the economic downturn began, it seems that “playing it safe” has become a national pastime. Companies have laid off employees, instigated hiring freezes, and focused on cost-cutting measures rather than seeking to grow and prosper. While many of them have money, they are afraid to use it due to uncertainty in the marketplace.That’s called playing it safe—and it's the opposite of playing to win.

The problem is that growth demands risk - of time, of money, of talent - on endeavors that can be said to have a reasonable expectation of success (the operative word here being “expectation,” not “guarantee"). Leaders take risks where others are paralyzed by the possibility of failure. Some companies understand this—they aggressively launch new products, enter new markets, and venture into uncharted territory. These are the companies that set the pace, earn the profits, and reap the benefits of their leader status.

The same principle applies to individuals. Polls reveal that a large percentage of employees - anywhere from one-third to over one-half - say that they will look for new jobs when the economy picks up. For now, however, they are content to play it safe. Meanwhile, others are proactively seeking opportunities—and finding them.

There are no guarantees, but there are always opportunities. Playing to win means finding and exploiting these opportunities to get ahead. Do you have to leave your current job in order to do so? Maybe, maybe not. If you're content where you are, look for opportunities to grow and advance within your position. Learn a new skill. Propose a new idea. Ask for more responsibility, or for more resources to do your job better. If your efforts are ill-received, give it some time and ask again. Push back on the status quo.

Are you playing it safe, or are you playing to win? While none of these endeavors guarantee your success, they at least put the option on the table. Go ahead, weigh the risk-profit ratio before making a decision—but please, quit doing things just because they're "safe." When the economy does improve, you'll be an MVP for playing to win while others were hanging out in their comfort zones.


  1. Steve

    Playing to win is certainly not the comfortable thing to do. My guess is that folks who do not play to win when times are tough will not do it in an economic boom either. That's just a convenient excuse to stay in their comfort zones.

    The great thing about taking risks and playing to win is that it opens the doors to opportunity that you may not have even expected. You may end up in a completely different place than you imagined, but it will still be a worthwhile journey.

  2. Alan Allard

    Steve, you are right, playing to win is not always the most comfortable thing to do. Not only that, it's not always easy to even admit that we are not playing to win, that we are playing it safe. Thanks for your insights and for adding to the discussion!

Leave a Comment