This is how five-time NBA Champion, eighteen-time All-Star and basketball Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant once described what it feels like to lose. He went on to say, “It means you have different ways to get better. There are certain things you can figure out—that you can take advantage of—certain weaknesses that were exposed that you need to shore up. So it’s exciting.”
It might be surprising to hear one of sport’s greatest competitors describe losing as anything but unacceptable. Especially someone like Kobe, who was obsessed with winning. Obsessed. He would push—and often provoke—his teammates if he didn’t believe they were working hard enough or showing the right mentality.
As he matured, Kobe seemed to understand that success is not linear and that losing can provide rich opportunities for growth. “It sucks to lose,” he said, “but at the same time, there are answers there if you just look at them.”
There are answers there if you just look at them.
Our professional lives don’t usually provide us with the same straightforward outcomes as a win-lose sporting competition. Work is continuous and varied. We operate using different scorecards and various measures of success. And the “wins” we receive off the field? Far too nuanced.
– A promotion is typically considered a victory. But what about the additional responsibility, increased pressure and challenges with work-life integration that it brings?
– The approval of a big contract can feel triumphant in the moment. But what about the subsequent task of delivering on its promises?
And the “losses?”
There are answers there if you just look at them; answers that help you grow.
Adopting Kobe’s “losing is exciting” perspective is incredibly beneficial, although it’s rare for us to pause and reflect around professional events. We are so busy doing that we miss out on the opportunity to engage in Action Learning.
Action Learning is a four-stage cycle of learning. We draw information from our experiences and experiments to inform our cognitive processes and ultimately, further our development through:
1. Having a concrete experience
2. Observing and reflecting on that experience
3. Creating abstract concepts and conclusions to form a hypothesis
4. Testing that hypothesis in a future context
Testing the hypothesis leads to a new concrete experience, which starts the learning loop again.
Benefits of Action Learning
Adopting an Action Learning approach yields benefits that can be comprehensive, even transformative. While we may miss the isolated rewards of winning, we can enjoy the wider concept of success far beyond a singular event like the playoffs. Euphoria is fleeting. Long-term happiness, balance and calm are not.
In addition, Action Learning helps teams:
– Think critically
– Work collaboratively
– Listen reflectively
– Generate insights about what’s being solved before action is taken
– Formulate a better pathway to success
Action Learning is most aligned with the concept of Deming’s Circle, a pillar of the Continuous Improvement movement. The “Plan-Do-Check-Act” process helps integrate the ongoing completion of tasks with higher levels of learning.
In the educational field, Action Learning is similar to Kolb’s Experiential Learning cycle, a process which incorporates, in a circular and ongoing manner:
– How we approach things: doing and watching
– How we think about things: feeling and thinking
Performance Mindset + Learning Orientation
A performance mindset is win-lose. On the playing fields and in the boardrooms, our mind focuses on the outcomes of our efforts, which leads to accomplishing our goals… or not!
A learning orientation is evolution and growth. We have the option to focus on our learnings—the connections between our efforts, external variables, the team and context—to figure out how they can influence outcomes.
Arguably, Kobe’s greatest accomplishment was to integrate this performance-learning model on the basketball court night after night, week after week, year after year, over the course of a highly successful career.
We don’t have to choose between performing and learning in our professional lives. One complements the other, especially since the factors that drive success outside the lines are more complex, subtle and expansive. If instead, we blend a performance mindset with a learning orientation, we can vastly improve our sports, our relationships, our careers—our lives.
By engaging in the process of appreciative inquiry, reflection, experimentation and adaptation, we can rise above the limitations of our actions, biases and experiences.
There are answers there if you just look at them; answers that help you grow. Answers, that reveal another way to win.
Jamie Ramsden is a certified executive leadership coach and founder of Adastra Consulting (www.adastraleadership.com). A former Chief Executive, Jamie has been coaching C-Suite and Senior executives around the world for over fifteen years.