When we chose sides for games back in school—whether athletic or intellectual—we tried to get the best players on our side. When I advised clients on hiring, we tried to get the best candidates. Companies that promote and reward their best people succeed the most. We try to choose airlines that do the best job of on-time arrival, safeguarding our baggage, and comfortable seating. We look for the best deals when we buy something. When we ask for referrals, we usually ask for the best or suggest the best.
Have any of you ever asked, “Who is the cheapest doctor I can get for this surgery?” or “Who is the least expensive attorney available for this critical law suit?” I tell prospects all the time: “Do you want the cheapest or the best to help you and your firm succeed?”
When we attempt to teach our kids that participation is the main thing, we do them a vast disservice. Surely, you can’t get a hit if you don’t get into the game, which means more than just showing up at the ball park. But you still won’t get a hit if you don’t swing the bat, having practiced assiduously how to do so. No one in the dugout says, “Nice at bat, you don’t have to help the team by actually trying to hit the ball!.”
Some of you are thinking of the Olympic admonition: It’s not whether you win or lost, it’s how you play the game. Of course, the Olympics go overboard recognizing the winners, putting them on a platform, and playing the national anthem of their country while others must stand and honor them! Oh, yes, and they also keep scores by medal count and standing of the countries participating.
I’ve hearD this attributed to both football coach Vince Lombardi and Adolph Rupp, famed University of Kentucky basketball coach: “If winning isn’t so important, why does anyone bother to keep score?” (Some schools actually tried not to keep score, and it was a huge snooze.)
The world is about competition. It has always been such, and likely always will be. Communism and all the other utopian schemes lost, in fact, to capitalism, because, despite its imperfections, the great preponderance of people prefer it. But capitalism can’t be degraded to “everyone wins simply by being present and showing up.” And if we choose to teach our kids that—which we’re clearly seeing more and more—we do them great harm when someone chooses the players, consumers make choices, and companies reward performance.
Here’s William Graham Sumner:
“Let it be understood that we cannot go outside of this alternative: liberty, inequality, survival of the fittest; not liberty, equality, survival of the unfittest. The former carries society forward and favors all its best members; the latter carries society downwards and favors all its worst members.”
You may find that a bit harsh. But maybe not so much when you’re rooting for the home team or in need of a heart surgeon.