ThinkingWinWinA few days ago I wrote a post asking why people might view “selfish altruism” as a contradiction in terms. I think this is an important topic. In this article I want to try to share a bit more of my thinking with you. I hope you will share your thinking with me — even if we disagree.

So why do most people seem to believe that selfish altruism is an oxymoron?

I think this is a result of the widespread belief that win-win is just happy talk. Something guys like Steven Covey espouse in order to sell books or something that the Pointy Haired Boss says to Dilbert.

I think I understand how reasonable people can come to this conclusion. There are a number of misconceptions about “Seeking Win-Win.” I thought I’d try to address a few of them in this post.

“You just can’t create win-win on demand.”

False. There are several procedures that you can use to create win-win solutions when we need them.

The one I use most often was created by Eli Goldratt. It is the so-called “Evaporating Cloud” method. Bill Dettmer has written about it at length in his books on the TOC Thinking Process tools. And TOC For Education has taught hundreds of thousands of children to do it.

TRIZ is another way to generate win-win solutions. It’s more complex than the Cloud but arguably more powerful for certain kinds of problems.

Note that crafting win-win is (mentally) more demanding than simply compromising on something important to you or demanding that someone else give up something important to them.

“If what you said was really possible, everyone would already be doing it.”

Not necessarily. Here is why.

First, the procedures I mentioned above are not widely known. Most people have never heard of the Evaporating Cloud, Eli Goldratt, TOC or TRIZ.

Second, even if everyone knew of the procedures, most people are not practiced in them. Just as the ability to sight-read music doesn’t confer the ability to play the piano, neither does knowing the mechanics of the Evaporating Cloud confer the ability to craft win-win when you need it. You really have to sweat and struggle with it until you master it. And most of us don’t like sweating and struggling.

I think there may be a biological basis for this aversion to sweating and struggling. I believe we seek to conserve our limited resources. I believe that over the course of our evolution those people who did not conserve their resources “selected out” of the population. After all, you never know when you’re going to need a burst of energy to survive, so don’t waste what you have.

Here’s the bottom line. You won’t make the necessary investment unless you believe that sweating and struggling to learn how to craft win-win is going to serve you. And if you don’t make the investment then for you win-win will be just happy talk. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

“There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Learning how to craft win-win when you really need it doesn’t give you a free pass in life. It won’t put you on easy street. You will still have problems.

However some things will be very different. You will have the freedom to choose to deal with your problems in a much more effective manner. You will recognize that you have many options instead of only a few or none at all.

You will still find yourself suffering at some points in your life. Let me give a personal example.

I once had a good friend who I met when I hired her into my small business. She demonstrated her competence and personal concern for the business very quickly. We soon developed a deep and abiding respect for each other.

A few years after I hired her I learned that she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She died about two years later.

Of course her disease caused her to suffer. And those of us that loved her in one way or another also suffered and still suffer from time to time.

Having the ability to craft win-win didn’t grant me an exemption from this suffering. It did allow me to view suffering in a different way. And I ultimately came to see some value in that suffering.

So on the one hand I really had no choice in the matter — I was going to suffer. And yet, on the other hand, I had total freedom as to how I would understand and use that suffering.

I believe that suffering has (in some ways) served me. While I would much rather have my friend back that is not possible. So I did the best I could and found a different kind of value. And I know that that is what my friend would have wanted me to do.

“But other people won’t cooperate. They’ll just exploit you.”

I have not found this to be true. When you craft win-win, you’re bringing the other person a win too. People don’t usually cut their own wrists. They sometimes do, but it’s the exception and not the rule.

So what about the freaks? The psychopaths who still want to hurt or kill you even when you’re bringing them a real win?

The ability to craft win-win provides protection even when someone does something very bad to you. You might have to sweat and struggle, however.
When you crafting win-win over and over again (for a period of years) you become pretty good at finding novel ways to wriggle out of tight spots. Who knows, with work, maybe you could become the next “MacGyver” of the problem solving world.

I’ll end this too-long post here. As the old song goes “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!”