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Winners and losers

February 22, 2012

People, businesses and societies struggle with the reality of win-win thinking. While the concept may be attractive, the reality suggests a level of compromise and trust that often proves threatening.

In many ways, this is most evident at the macro-economic level. While nations believe in trade, their commitment to free trade is highly variable and the mechanisms to calculate true economic benefits are largely missing. Outsourcing is a good example. When based on relative ability to perform, it is clearly beneficial. When based solely on labor arbitrage, it probably is not. At the political level, economics is frequently depicted as a war, a battle between ‘economic units’ (or nations). Society is led to perceive the economy as a battleground in which there are winners or losers. Yet economics is potentially about expanding benefits for all.

This same mentality has expanded into the world of contracts and their negotiation. Given they are primarily economic instruments, that is probably not surprising – but of course it influences and undermines results. The winning mentality creates tensions that make cooperation difficult and often sets the scene for long-term ‘revenge’.  Cultures in which collaboration to mutual benefit remains more common are in concept better placed to drive economic benefit, yet history suggests the actual winners are those who grasp the opportunities for themselves.

So will win-win ever in fact be allowed to flourish and get beyond a nice theory that is occasionally seen in practice?

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