Create Moments of Victory

We make comparisons between business and sports all the time. We talk about hitting a home run, taking more shots, playing defense. But one of the challenges of business, compared to sports, is the rarity of the unadulterated victory. Whether it’s a friendly pick up game to a state title to the Olympics, winning a competition offers something pure and simple. A true win. Yes, the victory may be temporary – next round, next game, next season – but it’s still very real, very tangible.

In business, there’s no agreed upon metric for winning. Market share? Revenue? Profitability? Customer satisfaction? Return on capital? You could make a case for any one of those, and there’s also no time frame for when to “call it”. We have to manufacture those win opportunities.

Making wins feel real

In technology, the launch date is a big opportunity to claim a victory. For startups, it’s the official launch on TechCrunch (or more likely today, ProductHunt). On a bigger scale, it’s the 2007-12 Apple keynotes, where the announcement is the key moment victory. Of course, announcements and launches can be flops so there is also risk there.

For enterprise companies, it might be a major deal. At Percolate, our VP of Sales leads a “clap it up” session when a new client signs on or renews. I remember interviewing for a job at Tesla in 2010 in sales and was told that every time someone sold a car, a gong was rung through out the entire office, which was basically a warehouse full of tables, computers and phones. Of course that celebration feels good for the sales person, but the key is to make it feel like a win for the entire company.

The Magic of Momentum

This is a video of my parallel bar routine from Day 1 of NCAA championships, at home at Stanford in 2008. You can see how fired up I was after sticking that landing.

Victory is contagious. I was the first guy up on the first event, and that means I had the responsibility of setting the tone for the entire team. The energy from that performance got everyone excited.

Repeated victories create momentum and momentum is everything, especially in a startup. For engineers, knowing that their company deploys new code multiple times a day is a powerful thing – it tells them that their work will have immediate impact, and they won’t see their code languish and waste away until the next monthly or, gasp, quarterly update. Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile puts it this way:

“All the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work”.

Amabile is also an advisor for my friend Walter Chen’s company iDoneThis, a tool that asks you to report what you got done each day – partly as a tracking and accountability tool, but partly as a way to visualize your progress over time. We do this at Percolate with a similar email system around MIT’s (most important tasks).

James, cofounder of Percolate, often tells us at the marketing team that the rest of the company needs to see and feel the impact of our work on a regular basis. Every team is responsible for shipping – product, sales, client services – but marketing, as experts on messaging and distribution, is especially positioned to make everyone in the organization feel the results of that forward progress. When you have enterprise software that you can’t just get a free trial account for, marketing (our website, out blog, our social channels, our events, our reports) become the most visible manifestations of our company – to clients, to prospects, to partners, to prospective employees.

Winning is worth it


I was part of the Stanford Men’s Gymnastics team that won an NCAA championship in 2009. It was an unbelievable experience and for me, the crowning achievement of my 16 year career in gymnastics. When I look at the picture of us on the podium, i see 18 guys who are on fire and so proud of their team effort.

Let’s find ways to create these moments of victory in business as well.

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and talent expert. He is CEO of a performance hiring platform called Headlight, a Fast Company contributor, and an advocate for Asian American men. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonshen and subscribe to his private newsletter.

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  1. Man, I love winning. 

    One thing I’ve been trying to do is set myself up to have more wins by reframing what I count to be a win based on what I’ve learned from the hall of fame NCAA basketball player and coach John Wooden in his book, “Wooden: A lifetime of observations on and off the court” . . . 

    Losing and Winning

    Long before any championships were ever won at UCLA, I came to understand that losing is only temporary and not all encompassing. You must simply study it, learn from it, and try hard not to lose the same way again. Then you must have the self-control to forget about it. 

    I’ve also learned that winning games, titles, and championships isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. 

    Please understand that I wanted to win every single game I ever played in or coached. Absolutely. I wanted to win. But, I understood that ultimately the winning or losing may not be under my control. What was under my control was how I prepared myself and our team. I judged my success, my “winning,” on that. It just made more sense. 
    I felt if we prepared full we would do just fine. If we won, great; frosting on the cake. But, at no time did I consider winning to be the cake.
    That is the level of thinking that created the greatest championship record in all of sports… 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975. 
    So of course I’ve taken this thought process and adapted it to my Madden 15 football practice to take myself from a rank beginner who’d only casually played football video games as a kid, to reaching the top 4% of ranked players in a matter of months. I practice everyday and I enjoy it just as much as playing my games. 
    But how would one adapt it to my profession – a marketer charged with persuading in print and pixel?     

    Based on Wooden’s perspective, I’ve come to believe that one of the ways to sustain your forward momentum in business between the big events (sales calls, launches, pitch meetings, etc.) where a large/significant scale win or a loss is on the line is to have daily success rituals in place that serve to prepare you to perform at your best when it’s game time. 
    An example of a success ritual that Gary Bencivenga, the legendary billion dollar marketing copywriter suggested was, “An Ad a Day”. This would be a practice where you would dissect a winning promotion everyday from a kick ass swipe file to discover new angles you hadn’t thought of using before, or be reminded of classic approaches that you hadn’t used in a long time. To take it a step further, you could engage in the practice of writing out the ad to drill into your subconscious the flow of a rock solid pitch as the world famous copywriter Gary Halbert would suggest you do to improve your copywriting ability. 
    The smalls wins accrued by following this daily ritual could serve as the practices did for Wooden’s teams that had them prepared for the big games and I trust there are little rituals like this that would serve to do the same for professionals in a wide variety of fields.To find these rituals and practice them could very well lead a person to becoming legendary in their small slice of the world.

  2. Excellent approach Jason. The comparison is valid since winning it seems the same in every filed. The point is that sometimes we are not ready to reach it because, mainly, on our inadequacies (that’s why martial arts and sports alike give some much attention to preparation) .

    Thank you for the insights Jason. Sometimes business can be the same (if not greater) demanding as the competitive sports!

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