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I no longer subscribe to the idea of “live and let live.” Instead, there’s a more evolved version that will take me further, you further, and the world further: “win and help win.”
If you’ve ever been on an airplane (and actually listened to the pre-flight safety instructions), you know that your first priority in an emergency is to save yourself. This makes perfect sense—if you don’t have oxygen, how can you possibly help others get oxygen? In times of survival, you must save yourself before you ever get the chance to save others. You must first win.
In the creative economy, acts of creation are the absolute first prerequisite for helping others. In his book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield says, “if you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.” In essence, he’s saying that you must keep working until you win. In the process, by sharing your work, you help others win. In the end, through victory, the world wins.
Balaji Srinivasan puts “win and help win” into a different, more controversial, yet more relatable context. By looking at the political spectrum, it helps put this philosophy into perspective. In general, he says that conservatives tend to stay home, dislike change, and are not inherently ambitious—hence “conservative.” Progressive liberals have a zero-sum mentality—if someone wins, someone else has to lose. Libertarians adhere to the philosophy of “live and let live,” and tend to keep to themselves as long as others do the same. Instead, “win and help win” takes the best of each philosophy. It is ambitious in a way that conservatives are not; positive sum in the way that liberals are not; collective in a way that libertarians are not.
Of course, there are limitations to this philosophy. The word “win” can bring up a range of connotations. Most harmfully, it can bring to mind the idea of winning at someone else’s expense. This is a perfectly reasonable objection, but is fast becoming a relic of the past. In the age of the internet, in the age of leverage, and in the age of abundance, we are now beginning to see that the production of value is not finite. If I write a valuable blog post, I don’t need to recreate it every time someone wants to read it. If I create a valuable video, I don’t have to turn on the camera and record every time someone wants to view it. If I can somehow teach someone how to think better, do better, and feel better, I’ve won, they’ve won, and the world has won. Each of these are acts of creativity. Each of these are acts of leadership. And each of these occur at no one else’s expense. In the airplane, the creative economy, or on the political spectrum, by first producing value for ourselves, others, in turn, are able to benefit from that value.
Another objection to this philosophy would be that it implies waiting until you feel like you’ve won in order to help others win. This also is a limiting mindset. For this, there are two possible solutions: 1) either help people along your path, or 2) act as if you’ve already won. Whatever mental constructs you lean towards, understand that they only exist as a guide, not a requirement. What matters in the end is: are you helping move the world forward?
Nobody wants to follow a leader who doesn’t succeed. It’s sounds blunt, but it’s the truth. If any other factor was the case, there would be different incentives, different political systems, and different leadership structures. As a leader, you don’t have to win at someone else’s expense. You don’t have to wait to win in order to help others. You don’t have to look at the world as a zero-sum game. But it certainly helps to win.
By shifting your mindset to “win and help win,” you are doing more for yourself. You are doing more for your neighbor. And you are doing more for the world. You are doing what Steven Pressfield would call “nudging the human race once millimeter farther along its path.” You become the rising tide that lifts all boats. You become the leader that people want to follow.
Win and help win.
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