Jul 262018

Sometimes a Good Loss is Better than a Bad Win

I just said this to a fellow little league coach, and it’s certainly true for baseball.  I’ve coached games with sloppy and/or blowout wins in the past.  You take the W and move on, but it’s hard to say “good game” at the end of it and feel like you played a good game.  And I’ve coached games where we played our hearts out and made amazing plays on offense and defense…and just came up short by a run.  You are sad about the L, but at least you left it all out on the field.

Is that statement true in business?

What’s an example of a “bad” win?  Let’s say you close a piece of business with a new client…but you did it by telling the client some things that aren’t true about your competition.  Your win might not be sustainable, and you’ve put your reputation at risk.  Or what about a case where you release a new feature, but you know you’ve taken some shortcuts to launch it on time that will cause downstream support problems?  Or you negotiate the highest possible valuation from a new lead investor, only to discover that new lead investor, now on your Board, expects you to triple it in four years and is way out of alignment with the rest of your cap table.

On the other side, what’s an example of a “good” loss?  We’ve lost accounts before where the loss was painful, but it taught us something absolutely critical that we needed to fix about our product or service model.  Or same goes for getting a “pass” from a desirable investor in a financing round but at least understanding why and getting a key to fixing something problematic about your business model or management team.

What it comes down to is that both examples – little league and business – have humans at the center.  And while most humans do value winning and success, they are also intrinsically motivated by other things like happiness, growth, and truth.  So yes, even in business, sometimes a good loss is better than a bad win.