A Quick Thought for a Saturday Morning
Is “pushing the limits” good or not so good? In western culture these days, of course it is good. We strive all the time. We go for it. In this heated environment, sports and performance in general takes on special significance. It is here where limits are most obvious. Where we can push harder and go farther. We are somewhat obsessed by performers and their performances. So we lavishly reward winners and deride losers.
But there is a downside to this. The harder we push for more, the less we enjoy what we have and who we are. Dagny Knutson provides us with a case study. She was a swimming prodigy who nearly killed herself pushing and pushing to do ever better. Oops. Good thing she woke up.
I am not against striving. I am for striving to live better, not just tougher. We can’t always play for “win/win”, but we can expand the opportunities to do so as we resist the allure of ” win/lose” spectacles. When we are building institutions, this is good strategy
There is a more basic reason to think this way. The more we obsess over win/lose, the more we look for confirmation that we can do something that others cannot. This contributes to what Robert Kahneman calls “the illusion of skill”. This illusion is powerful - where data tells us that we do not have the skills to do something, but our instincts rebel from this. So we persist in doing things that are useless. Not only do we persist, but we emotionally tie ourselves to the process. We believe we can win, even where victory over losers may not be what the game is about.
BTW, we can translate the above into Dave Logan’s tribal leadership model - level 3 tribes are dominated by the illusion of skill. How to get beyond this at the “tribal level”? That is a very big question. We understand at least one thing about the process. It requires a shift in focus from an infatuation with the self to an infatuation with shared values in the group.
Infatuation? I use the word to highlight the emotional aspect of this focus. Where the focus allows us to see beyond the routine. This is the type of striving that I like.
FOLLOW - Do I exaggerate how obsessed we are these days with competition (win/lose events)? Consider these two articles. The first about racing to climb the stairs of the Empire State Building. Is this normal?
There are 1,576 steps ahead of them, 10 to 12 minutes of suffering. And before that, less than 10 yards from the start, there’s a door to get through. It’s standard size, 36 inches wide, and everyone, Dold especially, wants to be the first one there. The jockeying is desperate. In 2009, Suzy Walsham, an Australian, was shoved into the wall next to the door. “The impact was so great,” she says, “that I initially thought I had broken my nose and lost teeth.” She fell and was trampled before she rose and ran on to victory.
The second is about ice cross. Right. That is where four at a time race down an icy course wearing hockey gear. You can imagine.