Just Don’t Lose!

It’s halftime. You’re in the locker room and your coach is giving a speech. “Don’t mess this up,” he says. “Take no unnecessary risks and play it safe.” He emphasizes his conclusion, “Whatever you do, don’t lose the game!”

Sounds a bit odd, right? At least on a football field it is. But isn’t this what we do every day at work? We slow down and play it safe because a loss costs us much more than we stand to gain from a risky win

But back in the world of sports, the consequences of the “Don’t Lose” mentality are clear. Take for example penalty kick shootouts in soccer. Researches Gier Jordet and Esther Hartman studied the conversion rate of penalty takers who were kicking the final shot of a penalty shootout. There are two possible scenarios:

  1. The shooter’s team was down by a goal and he had to make the kick to tie; if he missed, the team would lose.
  2. The shooter’s team was tied, and he did not have to make the shot, but if he did, the team would win the game.

Jordet and Hartman found that in the first scenario, when missing the kick would cause the team to lose, professional players only converted 62% of those shots.

However, when conversion would result in a win, kickers were successful 92% of the time! Same kick, same distance, same target, but a 30% improvement when the player was shooting to win, instead of shooting not to lose.

We are so scared of losing what we have that we don’t go after what we really want. We play it safe and hold on so tight to the status quo that we never experience what could be. We believe the doubters and don’t take chances that will move us one step towards our dreams.

We see this in sports all the time when a team has the lead. They start to think about how not to lose instead of how to win. They hold on so tight to their lead that they start playing safe. You can see it in their energy and body language. As a result the other team takes chances, plays with no fear and, more often than not, stages a comeback.

But why do we do this so often in business or in our personal lives? Why do bosses encourage us to take the safest route, not make any mistakes and go for the “tried-and-true” approach?

Take a chance! It’s worth it.

The tiny cost of failure is dwarfed by the huge cost of not trying.

– Seth Godin