The legendary San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Steve Young, was in Boise last week and spoke at this year’s Idaho Innovation Awards banquet. About a thousand Idaho business leaders leaned forward to capture every word.
Young described certain “truths” he learned on the football field, including this one: a team wins when its members admire each other, cooperate and share (in successes and failures).
By contrast, teams more likely to lose are those divided by pursuers of self-interest, who grab success to themselves, deflect personal responsibility and blame others for failure.
Steve called the first approach one of “abundance” and the second, the “zero-sum game.”
Sharing of abundance brings people together. The zero-sum game pits them against each other in self-centered and self-defeating competitions for fame and fortune.
Great leaders — like Steve Young, his longtime coach, Bill Walsh, and successful CEOs everywhere — advocate for abundance and deploy strategies to fight the tendencies to the zero-sum game. They promote measures that foster acceptance, interaction, mutual affection, respect, collaboration and cooperation.
This analysis resonates with truth and applies in every setting that involves groups of human beings.
Families and children do better in caring, supportive environments, where love, respect and compassion prevail. Neighborhoods that share these values are more supportive and resilient.
Businesses and employees do better when managers and employees admire, support and encourage each other in accomplishing a shared vision.
Cities, states and countries flourish if their constituents share common purpose, accept and value diversity and seek the best for the greatest number. The adage that “everybody does better when everybody does better” is true.
By contrast, in the zero-sum game, only one side or party can win. But the winning is selective and short-lived. It may only last for the few who selfishly push others down to capture all benefit and recognition to themselves.
The zero-sum game results in factions and tribes and promotes distrust and fear. These ends are accomplished through bullying techniques that include finger pointing, name calling, misrepresentation, exaggeration and rumor of conspiracy.
This approach leads to broken families, dysfunctional neighborhoods, failed businesses, and divided cities, states and countries — riven with anger, fear, belligerence and violence.
Surely, we can agree on this: the zero-sum game approach is destructive of individual and group potential and tears at the fabric of our social and political institutions.
In today’s zero sum game environment, we must strive for a mentality of abundance — to find common good and common ground; to accept and respect one another; to listen carefully and respond thoughtfully; and, to lift each other up rather than pushing each other down.
With this, we, individually and as a people, will be happier and stronger.
Without it, we won’t.