Hoping Others Fail Is Not a Strategy

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Please miss.

Please MISS.


We’ve all been there. Whether in the final moments of the big game. At a gathering where someone else dared to move in on your “person of interest.” Gearing up for a big debate, presentation, demo-day, sales or job pitch or competition. Personal or professional.

But here’s the deal…

Hoping others fail is not a strategy, it’s a travesty. Click to tweet

Zero sum game situations still rule so much of life. And when they do, we’ve generally got a two step strategy.

Do our best + hope the competition screws up.

Two thoughts on this…

One, what if we added a step 0.5? What if we asked,

“Does this really have to be a zero-sum game?”

Is there some way to change the bigger construct to allow everyone to win? It’s possible more often than you’d imagine. But people don’t go there, because we’ve never been trained to think beyond kill or be killed.

Two, even if there’s no conceivable way to add the above step and change the fundamental nature of the challenge (think Olympics), I’d rather know I got the gig not because I was the one who didn’t screw up or screwed up least, but because I kicked some serious ass. There’s not a lot of glory or intrinsic reward in knowing you were better than someone else’s bad day.

Better to win by excellence than attrition. Click to tweet

Okay, so let’s add a number three here, too. Better to lose out of humanity and compassion than win with impunity. Runner, Meghan Vogel is powerful example. As Doug Binder wrote for ESPN:

Vogel, a junior runner for West Liberty-Salem High School (West Liberty, Ohio), won the 1,600-meter title Saturday at the Division III girls state meet at Jesse Owens Stadium in Columbus. But it’s what she did in her next race that was most remarkable.

With about 20 meters to go in the 3,200, Arden McMath, a sophomore from Arlington High School, collapsed in front of Vogel. Rather than run by her, Vogel helped McMath to her feet and carried her across the finish line, making sure to keep McMath ahead of her.

Here’s the video:

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What Vogel did is the real power move. She exchanged a place in a race for a moment that not only defined her character, but moved a nation.

What do YOU think?

With gratitude,


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15 responses

15 responses to “Hoping Others Fail Is Not a Strategy”

  1. Susan Kuhn says:

    Yes indeed. Competition and zero-sum games are so 20th Century! We can create instead, and put human values front and center.

  2. Ian Robinson says:

    We’re all in this together. When Vogel carried her competitor across the finish line she made the event a remarkable story.

    If she had run by her, sure she would have won but the event… but the event would almost certainly be forgotten now.

    If we all decided to live this way, would the world be a better place?

    I think so.

  3. Irene Ross says:

    Here’s how I see it–when my competitors are doing good, so am I. (Ever try to pitch someone who had a lousy experience with someone else in your industry??!!)

    Yup, we’re all in this together. Let’s remember that.

  4. Thank you for speaking to this today Jonathan! Hoping others fail is kind of like a horrible buy one get one free offer… you “buy” some misery for yourself as well. You invite that same energy in that you are sending out.

  5. Joe Jacobi says:

    You know I always perk up to the “Olympic” stuff, Jonathan 🙂

    So there have been a few stories like Meghan’s over the past few years – the US Olympic Committee’s annual award for sportsmanship has recognized two similar running stories.

    The thing that has stood out for me in these stories is that they happen in the heat of the moment, quickly and instinctively, when there is no time to really process the opportunities and consequences of acting on this instinct.

    Deep down, there’s a place where the “do the right thing” muscle activates. My belief is that you if practice actively engaging this muscle in situations when you do have time to think it out and process it, you are more likely to instinctively use it when there is no time to think about it.

    Thank you for shedding light on this story and the lessons that support it.

  6. Sushant says:

    Much better to race your horse faster than try to stop other person’s horse from running faster.

    Someone recently said to me, if you want to become a millionaire, help others become a billionaire.

  7. Cooperation is the new competition.

  8. In my experience, people are rarely antagonistic toward others. Most are just caught up in the stressful pursuit of their own interests. I think that Elie Wiesel was right when he said: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Exercising compassion under pressure is a good, and rare, practice. Meghan sets a nice example for all of us.

  9. There is a similar story from an Australian champion, John Landy who stopped to check on a fellow runner who had fallen and then went on to win the race. This clip always inspires me -although we giggle at the accent of the commentator these days.

  10. Matt Schmidt says:

    “Competition has been shown to be useful
    up to a certain point and no further,
    but cooperation, which is the thing
    we must strive for today,
    begins where competition leaves off.”
    ― Franklin D. Roosevelt

  11. […] Hoping Others Fail Is Not a Strategy It’s always a waste of time to hope that others fail. Spend that energy instead on looking for ways for you to succeed. (@ awake at the wheel) […]

  12. Si says:

    I could not agree with you more. I find no satisfaction in winning when I am not faced with a worthy and tough competitor and even if I lose, there is still no feeling of failure as I know the other person was worthy of winning, so it was totally fair.

    You have also given a great example of someone who still has human values which some of us have indeed forgotten. And I think Sushant’s second quote above summarises the attitude that we should all adopt really well.

  13. Gav says:

    Wow, thank you for the Vogel story, it’s beautiful.

    I did hear some time ago that they found the optimum amount of competition is always zero. In better words:

    “More than 400 peer-reviewed studies in the 20th century reviewed Darwin’s idea to discover what the optimum amount of competition was for any environment – whether a classroom, playing field or family – and the conclusion was zero.

    They discovered competition always hurts the individual and the community, and that nature is based on mutual aid and not competition. When we say competition, we are talking about violent competition, where one person, group or community benefits at the expense of another by exploiting the weaknesses of the other.”

    This is so true!

  14. […] Hoping Others Fail is Not a Strategy from Jonathan Fields at JonathanFields.com […]

  15. Suzanne says:

    To me, a mentality shift is necessary – there’s more than enough business for everyone who wants it. When we come from a place of confidence we wish our competitors well.