Thursday, January 6, 2011

Seeking the Win-Win Solution

I don't know exactly when I first encountered the concept of the win-win solution but I know I was an adult before I gave it a label. I was thinking about win-win this morning as I read that a local community college just purchased a building soon to be vacated by Macy's.  The building is an anchor of a rapidly declining shopping mall in, you guessed it, an economically declining neighborhood.  The absence of decent shopping is going to cause further decline in this neighborhood, and so the downward spiral continues.

Into this depressing situation comes this lovely win-win solution.  The community college already has a number of offices, and quite a bit of job skills training, bursting at the seams of a site just down the street.  The college will obviously benefit from this purchase!  Since public transportation here is anchored by shopping malls and college campuses this deal will also likely prevent the reduction of public transit to the neighborhood.  Might the presence of students in the mall result in increased sales at the food court? I wouldn't be surprised.  And, if there's still a bookstore in that mall, this may breathe some new life into it as well.  But the absolute clincher is that the single most effective way to increase income is to increase education levels.  A win-win is a lovely thing.

I think we should try to improve at this win-win thing.  Culturally we are adapted to the win-lose culture of sports.  We are taught to compete at school, at games and at work.  We rarely remember that it's possible for everyone to win.  There's a board game on the market right now that I found difficult to learn because it's built around the win-win principle.  The game is called Pandemic and the players, while operating independently,  are effectively a team fighting a common adversary: an epidemic.  The only way to win the game is to defeat the disease through cooperative behavior.  If I play in such a way that my token advances farther or faster, we all die in the end.  If I cooperate with the other players, we all win and the true adversary, the epidemic, is defeated.

I think this is the root of the problems in the world today - we have misidentified the enemy.  We are competing in a win-lose fashion with the very people who should be our allies against the true enemy.  The poor guy using Medicaid to go to dialysis is not my enemy.  Poverty is the enemy.  The woman competing with me for the same job is not my enemy; the lack of jobs is the enemy.    If I spend my energy trying to eliminate the poor guy's Medicaid I win nothing, and he loses everything.  If all my energy goes to proving I am the better candidate for this lone job, then I win and she loses; and I don't know the true consequences of my win.  Her kids my go hungry, where mine might have only had to buy off-brand sneakers.  If I spend my energy trying to eliminate poverty or create jobs the poor guy, the woman and I will all win.

You may be thinking that I've wandered far from parenting today.  I don't think so.  Parents are the first teachers about winning;  you are the one who encourages your kid to seek the win-win or the win-lose.  Most kids, left to their own devices, will instinctively seek the win-win.  The most ready example of cooperative play (the kid version of win-win) is jumping rope.  Every kid gets it that to play jump rope games it takes at least 3 people, 2 to turn the rope and one to jump.  And they also understand that if they want to jump in the middle, then they have to take a turn at the end, swinging the rope.  (And, we all know what happens to the kid who doesn't get it.)  Teach your kids to value the win-win over the win-lose.  Model it for them, inside and outside the family. I think our very future may depend on it!

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