The Slim Margin of Success


This is the 34th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.

The difference between winning and losing is sometimes very slight.
There were eight finalists in the men’s 100-meter dash at the 1976 Olympics.
The Gold Medal winner beat the eighth man by less than half a second.
There are five million people engaged in selling in America.
Can you imagine what the Gross National Product would be if each of them had made just one more sale last year?
In sports, in business, in politics, in romance, winning isn’t everything.
But it sure beats losing.
Go get ’em, Tiger!

The first thought that struck me as I read this was I wonder if Mr. Gray would have changed the last word if he was writing this today, otherwise everyone would think he was referring to Tiger Woods!

It also struck me that Mr. Gray’s beliefs about winning aren’t quite the same as UCLA Bruins football coach Henry Russell (“Red”) Sanders’ beliefs, who famously said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” (I had always attributed this quote to Coach Vince Lombardi, but when I checked the facts, I discovered it was actually Coach Sanders who first uttered these words.)

While I certainly agree that winning is more enjoyable than losing, I think that perhaps there is more to be learned from losing than winning.

When you lose, that means that someone has outperformed you. This suggests that there is the possibility of improvement on your part, since someone has obviously shown that a better performance is possible. Such awareness can motivate you to want to learn how to get better.

When you win however, it is possible to get complacent and to not focus on how to improve your performance. There are many athletes, politicians, spouses, and companies who are guilty of such behavior.

So win or lose, I think the important thing is to keep trying, and to keep learning.

And if you want to read those same thoughts, just expressed more eloquently, here are some quotes from Augustine and Theodore Roosevelt:

Augustine (from Sermon 169, 15:18):

“Do not be content with what you are, if you want to become what you are not yet. For where you have grown pleased with yourself, there you will remain. But if you say, ‘that’s enough’, you are finished. Always add something more, keep moving forward, always make progress.”

Theodore Roosevelt (from Citizenship in a Republic):

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.