Habit 4. Think Win-Win.

The first three of Stephen Covey’s habits of highly effective people are personal. They’re individual. You and I can unilaterally be proactivebegin with the end in mind… and put first things first. We don’t need anyone’s permission to do these things…and equally significantly…no one else can do these things for us.

The next three habits are inter-personal. They’re about how we relate to those around us…and in certain ways they’re about how we work together.  The first of these three is Think Win-Win. Here’s some of what Covey has to say:

“Think Win-Win isn’t about being nice, nor is it a quick-fix technique. It is a character-based code for human interaction and collaboration.

Most of us learn to base our self-worth on comparisons and competition. We think about succeeding in terms of someone else failing–that is, if I win, you lose; or if you win, I lose. Life becomes a zero-sum game. There is only so much pie to go around, and if you get a big piece, there is less for me; it’s not fair, and I’m going to make sure you don’t get anymore. We all play the game, but how much fun is it really?

Win-win sees life as a cooperative arena, not a competitive one. Win-win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Win-win means agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying. We both get to eat the pie, and it tastes pretty darn good!

A person or organization that approaches conflicts with a win-win attitude possesses three vital character traits:

  1. Integrity: sticking with your true feelings, values, and commitments
  2. Maturity: expressing your ideas and feelings with courage and consideration for the ideas and feelings of others
  3. Abundance Mentality: believing there is plenty for everyone

Many people think in terms of either/or: either you’re nice or you’re tough. Win-win requires that you be both. It is a balancing act between courage and consideration. To go for win-win, you not only have to be empathic, but you also have to be confident. You not only have to be considerate and sensitive, you also have to be brave. To do that–to achieve that balance between courage and consideration–is the essence of real maturity and is fundamental to win-win.”


A lot to think about.

Let’s parse this from the perspective of Living on the Real World. And since we can’t cover every nuance in a post of reasonable length, let’s look at the idea of Win-Win from two levels. [Hopefully you will follow up with introspection and contemplation of your own…and maybe even contribute some discussion here.]

The worldwide perspective. Start with natural resources…food and fiber, say. We could adopt the view that there’s only so much to go around. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the Department of Agriculture here in the United States, and many other government agencies, think tanks, and university researchers are making and updating these estimates all the time. They tot up the arable land, the fraction of that land actually under cultivation, the yield per acre. They look at the potential for improving these figures by bringing new technologies on line. Through all this study they develop a feel for the crop supplies that could be available weeks or months or years out into the future, crop by crop, and region by region. They estimate the effect of climate change on these figures. [Some may remember, for example, the article published in Science last year by Lobell, Sclenker, and Costa-Roberts entitled Climate Trends and Global Crop Production since 1980. It received a lot of press attention over the summer. A review of the larger topic and references are available in the Wikipedia module on this subject.] To calculate the food available for seven billion of us, analysts also look at competing demands (for biofuel, say) as well as the waste that occurs at or near production, in transit, and at the consumer end. At the end, they forecast that some will be well-fed. Others may go hungry.

It’s possible to look at these figures as set in stone; it’s also possible to think about ways science and technology could expand this envelope at every stage, in every region, for every crop, on every time horizon. So that’s one level of Win-Win.

Similar logic plays out with respect to protection of the environment and ecosystems, and public health and safety in the face of natural hazards. So, for example, I might want the electrical power that comes from coal, but I might not want the strip mine in my back yard. So I maybe do what I can to see to it that coal is extracted in Wyoming. Or even further away. In Australia. Or Indonesia. And is burned to generate my power in some other state. I might prefer nuclear power, but advocate the storage of nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain, as opposed to the Virginia DC suburbs. I find riverine flooding to be inconvenient, so I build the levee on my side of the river a foot higher than the levee on your side of the river. The numbers of such Win-Lose examples are essentially countless.

Before leaving this level of discussion perhaps we could reflect on one additional point. The world’s discussions on these matters would look quite different if they were based on a Win-Win premise. But they would also look quite different if we were entirely in the Win-Lose mode in every one of these discussions. As matters stand, we’re somewhere in the spectrum of these two extremes. Some times, and some places, and in some ways, we’re thinking about the common good. In other instances and respects we have a poverty mentality.

The key issue for us is whither are we tending? Is the idea, the cultural value of Win-Win on the ascendancy? Or on the decline?

By way of transition to the second level, let’s ask this question of trends in politics over recent decades. [Why politics? Because it’s in this arena that the resource, and environmental, and hazards issues play out.] Would you say that our political leaders of both major parties in this country are thinking Win-Win in Covey’s sense? Are they thinking about how both parties and the country they jointly represent can prosper as a whole? Or are they attempting to beggar –or savage – one another? And are they looking beyond U.S. national borders, and asking how what we do can benefit humanity and the planet as a whole, or do we simply want a quick short-term fix for U.S. self-interest? What’s the trend here?

But you and I are in no position to be smug. To see this, let’s zoom in really close to home for blog readers. We could focus on any profession, but let’s choose scientists. And we could choose any dialog, but let’s look at the climate dialog.

The climate-science perspective. Would you say, either from your point of view as a participant (some of us), or a spectator (others), that the flavor of the climate conversation is Win-Win? Or more like Win-Lose? Well, like that set of larger global issues, the needle is somewhere between those two extremes, isn’t it?

Can we all agree that there’s scope for moving the needle more in the direction of Win-Win?

Can we go one step further. Can we agree that it would to everyone’s advantage to do so? Every scientist? And every member of the larger society? [If you disagree with this, please let the rest of us know why, and how.]

These are matters for individual reflection rather than some externally-imposed prescription. Some of that is already going on. For example, you might be interested in the emerging notion of climate pragmatism. Jonathan Foley wrote on this subject in 2011. Atkinson et al. also discussed it last year. Judith Curry has blogged on this topic, most recently yesterday.

Colleagues remind me that the scientific process is predicated in part on the idea that each of us is his/her severest critic. Necessary and helpful to be sure. But suppose we balanced such an approach with equal effort to being each other’s greatest advocate? Suppose we always asked ourselves: what’s in my colleague’s publication, position, analysis, approach, idea(s), recommendation(s) to like? How can I build on what he/she has done (as opposed to pick at some piece and tear it down)?

Win-lose? Frankly, this ground is getting picked over. You and I can make a go of this only through strenuous effort and unrelenting defense of our positions. And the forecast? It’s going to get even harder.

Win-Win? The opportunities over here are as big as all outdoors…and each hour of each day, the task’ll grow easier, and more satisfying – for all of us.

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4 Responses to Habit 4. Think Win-Win.

  1. Bill:-

    A few comments on an excellent column…

    1. One of the facts overlooked in the “Do we have enough food for all of these people?” discussions is the amount of food that never makes it to market because it spoils on the docks or in warehouses. Even in places such as the former Soviet Union, the fraction is as high as one-third. Think what a little technology could do to that number!

    2. When I lived in Mississippi, one of my favorite writers was Phil Hardwick. He is an economic / community development guru as well as author of some neat mysteries. For several years, he traveled throughout MS for TVA. One of the most important things I learned from him was that communities who looked for “win-win’s” – who didn’t see the world through zero sum glasses, and were open to new people and new ideas – were the ones that eventually succeeded in improving themselves. Lee County (Tupelo) is an excellent example. They partnered with neighboring counties and towns to get Toyota to place a plant – in the next county. They knew that they would win if it came (most of the workforce is in Lee County), but by having the plant in a better location vis-a-vis transportation access, they were more likely to be able to attract it in the first place.

    3. As far as the science of global warming is concerned, I want neither a win-win nor win-lose. I want the best science to win, NO MATTER WHO IS RIGHT. As far as public policy, I personally don’t want any that are aimed only at curbing CO2 until the science is more settled. However, that doesn’t preclude policies that can be justified on the basis of national security, or economic growth or some other basis (for example, incentivizing energy efficiency).

  2. Pingback: Think Win-Win…the postscript | Living on the Real World

  3. Ivan says:

    This whole idea of win-win is amazing.

    While win-win thinking is classified as an intrapersonal habit, my belief is that it’s the foundation of personal happiness.

    My interest in win-win was inspired by the concept of nonviolent communication, developed by Marshall Rosenberg. The word “communication” is misleading, because in truth this is a mindset that a person must have – before they can apply it when communicating with others.

    Nonviolence has nothing to do with being nice or meek. It’s all about the concepts we think with.

    We’ve been educated to think in violent or win-lose concepts, such as “good” and “bad”, “right” or “wrong”, “smart” or “dumb”. This constantly tricks us into trying to classify people and establish some kind of a hierarchy.

    Instead of finding solutions, we engage into ego battles and trying to push others down – so that we can get a sense of somehow being “better than others”

    This way of thinking is the source of many health issues like stress, depression and anxiety. A change of attitude removes all these problems and leads to natural healing.

    NVC is a system of win-win thinking – although not immediately obvious.

    Listen to Marshall Rosenberg talking about NVC:

    Watch the rest: http://bit.ly/nonviolent

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