A win or Continuous Improvement?

Over this past weekend, at a track meet, I overheard two parents talking about their high school kids competing at the meet.  One said, “ she just needs to win her race.  She only needs to win a race”.  The other parent said her daughter is focused on improving with each race.  “She wants to improve her time with each race”.  The first parent responded, “I would rather she wins a race than gain a second or two”.  The way they were talking about it convinced me that they were not saying the same thing differently.  It was obviously an argument.  Two different points of view. 

I wanted to see how this conversation would progress but had to leave to watch my son’s race which was starting at another end of the track.

All day and the next, I kept pondering these two objectives.  I could not shake it off.  I was not even sure why the two statements were troubling and confusing at the same time.  I repeated the statements to myself and thought there was something I was not getting with these two objectives.

I thought of the popular saying of a big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond but it did not explain it, as I still struggled with both perspectives and objectives.  

What is right or wrong with aiming to win a race?  What is wrong or right with wanting to improve with each race?  Why am I even bothered about it?

Finally, I zeroed in on the problem with these two statements:  The goal.  What is the goal of the girl who just wants to win a race irrespective of the time?  A win. Period!

What is the objective of the person who wants to improve with each race?  Continuous improvement to achieve the ultimate goal of an accomplished athlete(or whatever success means).  With continuous improvement, the chances of winning races are multiplied.  This athlete stands the chance to win many races in the long run.

There is an argument for a win in the short term – confidence boost. With that win comes increased motivation and self-belief that it can be done.  But that is different from  “all I want, is to win just one race”. 

As I thought about this, I remembered this statement that I recently came across in Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of  Habits”: “Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion for another small win”.  To have these serial small wins requires continuous push for improvement.  

For every accomplished athlete, the goal is to keep beating your PR (personal record).  Each time you set a new PR is a win.  Sometimes, this is just a fraction of a second.  As Charles puts it, small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns…

What has this got to do with all of us that are not Olympic aspiring athletes you may ask.  

Here is my response:

Life is a race.  You can argue it.  My defense is that it has a beginning and an end and we are all in our individual lanes, running, jogging, walking, crawling or not even moving.  Don’t confuse race with competition.  Life is not a competition but it is a race.  There is a finish line and in between when our life starts and ends, we have numerous races.  So, you can say life is a series of races.  

Right now, you are in a race to accomplish your goal this year, which is why you paused a week ago when you realized that the first quarter is gone, to check where you are (I am guessing you did!).

What is the goal you have set for yourself in your profession or career?  What are the critical objectives (small wins) that will fuel the transformative changes necessary to achieve your goal?   Small wins do not come in one straight line to the top, they are often scattered and require consistent focus. As Karl Weik noted, small wins help us to uncover both resources and barriers that we ordinarily would not have seen.  

At Authentic Transformations, we help your team define the small wins, and how to leverage these wins to achieve the stated goals. We help you as a leader to identify the transformative changes that will fuel your small wins consistently, keeping you on track for sustained leadership success.

Connect with me today to begin this conversation.