Lose To Win

For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that I love to tell stories.  In a two-day “mentorship” training workshop which I attended only recently, the trainer touched a soft spot in my heart by emphasizing that one of the main attributes of a good mentor was the ability to tell “stories” – stories that resonate with the mentee and inspire him or her to reach for their full potential.

My story today is about a running legend by the name of Greta Waitz.  She won the New York City Marathon a record of nine times, setting a world record in her very first attempt at this 42.195 kilometre race way back in 1978.  She won the London Marathon twice, the gold medal at the 1983 World Championships, and the silver at the 1984 Olympics.

Beyond Grete’s athletic achievements and her sports-superstar status, she was to those who knew her more intimately – a super human being.  She was known by many to be approachable, giving, and above all, humble.

One significant lesson we can learn from Grete pertains to her decision to run in the 1992 New York City Marathon for the last time.  It was made on the basis that she wanted to accompany her old friend Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York City Marathon and the man who first invited her to leave her home in Oslo to run in New York City.  Lebow was 60 years old and suffering from brain cancer.

Waitz and Lebow ran the entire race together, finishing in 5:32:35—twice Waitz’s usual finishing time.  The New York Times described their unforgettable appearance at the finish line: “They finished with their hands clasped and raised over their heads.  She would always call it her 10th victory in New York.”  Fred Lebow died two years later.

This story got me thinking – what if I choose to relate this to my mentee in the future, what would the learning be, in the context of career and professional development?  Here’s my take – the workplace, which can be akin to the world of a long distance runner, is often a lonely place in many parts.  I guess that is why the endless pursuit of work in today’s competitive corporate world is referred to as the “Rat Race”!  Singaporeans tend to be an ambitious lot, obsessed by our KPIs, and totally focused on climbing up the corporate ladder.  To an extent, it can be cold and unforgiving out there!

But like Greta Waitz, we need to sometimes slow down our pace to help someone around us.  I know that in the highly-strung environment we live in today, especially with technology contributing significantly to upping our efficiencies, we get impatient when our staff takes a little longer to get the work done.  I plead guilty that many a time when this happens, I have taken the job back to do it myself.

Grete’s story has taught me that there are occasions when we should let expediency take a backseat, and instead take the hand of our subordinate or colleague and complete the task together.  Forgoing glory so that you can help someone else shine is a gesture that many of us can afford to do more of.  Life is about sharing – sharing your expertise, knowledge, experiences.  It’s a positive legacy you can choose to leave behind.

Greta Waitz was a special kind of heroine – one who was so confident in herself that she was willing to deflect the spotlight onto somebody else.  “Losing”, in a situation such as this, is in fact equivalent to “winning” – winning the hearts of the people around you!



At a recent conference which I was invited to speak at, I shared on the topic of “Ideation”.  In a world where me-too products and services are becoming more and more proliferated, there is a dire need for companies who want to differentiate their wares to start pulling bright ideas out of the bag.  Inventory alone and good customer service is at most times insufficient to draw in the customers.  The consumers of today are spoilt for choice.  If they can’t get what they want where they are, there’s always e-shopping they can call on to accord them breadth of choice.

It’s no wonder that more and more creative consultancies are sprouting out all over the world.  Corporations across the board have become accustomed to working with external partners to help them innovate.  And invariably, brainstorm sessions and ideation workshops come as part and parcel of the offerings.

Ideas, however, as quite a few exponents have attested to, are not necessarily plucked from the air so to speak.  They are developed, on many occasions, from a combination of two or more existing ones.  Take for example the trolley bag, which was quite a breakthrough when it was first introduced.  However, if you look at it in more detail, it came about by merely combining a bag with a set of wheels.  The same goes also for combination locks – which is merely combining a simple lock with the technology that is employed in the locking mechanism for bank vaults and safes.  Why don’t you try this out – start looking at the things around you and break them down into the original two or more basic products which they were once before.  It’s a real fun exercise!

I’m sure most of you know about thinking outside the box.  To me, there is a fundamental flaw in this – and it the fact that the box is still there.  When you try and innovate to come up with new ideas only to have them rejected by your conservative boss, there is always the tendency after a few repeated incidents to climb back into the box and to give up trying.  One of the principles I spoke about at the event was to do with “burning the box”.   When the box is no more there for you to fall back on much alike a security blanket, you have no choice but to continue “pushing the envelope” and ideating!

The world needs more people to burn the box and bring new things to the table.  Whatever the situation may be, whatever your occupation or situation may be, there is always a good reason to innovate.  Thinking up new things is not just confined to the folks from the creative industry.  It cuts right across the board. Engineers can do it, accountants can do it [well, I’m not quite sure about creative accounting though], restauranteurs can do it, sportspeople can do it.

Being able to think creatively provides the “fabric” and depth to our lives. It supports the emotive part of our psyche and reinforces our ability to come up with something new all the time.  It makes us unique and provides us a sharper edge in our personality.  If you’ve never done so, why not jump on this bandwagon right now and see what interesting innovations await you!