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BLOGZero Sum Thinking

by Randall CraigFiled in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Management

Lester Thurow, one of last century’s great economists, coined the phrase (and wrote a book) called “Zero Sum Society”. In it, he described an economic system that had a finite limit, where one person’s gain would precisely be another person’s loss.

Unfortunately, many of us seem to use this mindset as we progress along our careers. Someone’s promotion is our loss. Someone’s failure is our gain.

Success, however, is absolutely not a zero sum game – it is additive. One of the most interesting examples comes from the automobile manufacturing business. Toyota is eclipsing the large American car companies on many different dimensions: product quality, market share, financial results, and so one. Nevertheless, several years ago Toyota sent teams of engineers to GM to help them improve their product quality. When asked why they did this, they responded that only strong competition will make them stronger.

Trainers and teachers often comment that they learn more when they teach their subject to others. When your mentor helps you with some key advice, both of you gain. And as the author of this tipsheet, I am not diminished by sharing it with tens of thousands of readers. Zero Sum Thinking doesn’t work here either.

Zero Sum Thinking has no place in our lives. When we see others’ losses as our gain, we lose the opportunity to profit from their experience. And when they push towards excellence we are motivated to do so ourselves.


What are you doing to make your staff, colleagues, and manager stronger? Pick one person this week, and find one way to make them stronger. You will learn something when you do so, and they will return the favor later.

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