“But do you know the real reason why it feels so good to stand at the top of yourself – why nothing else seems so right for us as when we accomplish what we will?
The answer is surprisingly simple:
Just as it is our natural need to drink water, to sleep and to breathe – so are we created to “win”. This idea is much, much more than positive thinking. You see, victory (in life) isn’t just an outcome, it’s actually a special part of us – something celestial sown deep into the core of our very being. And just as there can be no real substitute for a drink of water on a sweltering summer day, the same holds true for that part of our heart that would explore and celebrate its own native excellence: there is no substitute for its victory over life. – Guy Finley”
On the threshold of the new millennia I felt exhausted. I had a great job as a business consultant where I was able to fulfill my professional ambitions. I felt that I was blessed with a chance to work with issues I felt passion for; learning and strategic business development. I met wonderful and interesting people to share ideas with, not only about business, but about the mysteries of the human life as well; often on a very personal level, which made my work even more exiting and fulfilling. Besides my professional ambitions, I felt most of the time that I was able to fulfill my life’s purpose; to bring joy to people’s lives.
Nevertheless I felt exhausted, and worse; indifferent and uninterested about people around my work. Discovering my impassivity was a shock; I had lost my interest to the part of my job I loved the most. I also felt that my work did not serve my customers needs as well as I wanted..
One of the darkest moments of my professional life was a morning when I woke up with an awful feeling of indifference. With empty eyes I opened my calendar to check the tasks for the day, knowing perfectly well that I was invited to give a lecture about learning, but hoping that it would have disappeared in some mysterious way. Unwillingly I packed myself into the car and drove to the Fair Center. There they were; hundreds of people waiting for me to take the floor and elevate their minds up to the heaven of learning.
Glancing at the audience before me I panicked; I was sure that everybody had already heard my lectures and they pitied me thinking: “poor woman, is she ever going to have anything new to say, she has been playing that same record over and over again for years now”. The truth is that I knew no one from the audience. During the entire lecture I felt a peculiar feeling of “couldn’t care less” hanging around me. After the lecture many people came to thank me. They were to my surprise seemingly interested and asked further questions about me and my topic. “They didn’t notice” I quietly sighed, but didn’t feel very proud about myself either.
That day was an important milestone of my working life. A few months later I decided to take a year off and concentrate on my big love; singing and arts.
Ice-hockey is a national sport in Finland and among many others I am a devoted hockey-fan. During my busy years I however did not have a chance to watch the games. Therefore the first thing I did when my year off began, was to buy season tickets for me and my family to our favorite hockey-team Jokerit’s games. Gradually I was more and more involved with Jokerit, ending up as a chief-editor of the fan-magazine and developing the fan-activities for two seasons.
Apart from ice-hockey I spent my year studying. I took lessons in singing and courses in acting, history of arts and poetry. I also gave some concerts and sang whenever I had a chance. I immersed into the world of my favorite composer Richard Wagner, watching his operas when ever I had a chance, reading his books and books about him and spending hours after hours listening to the recordings of his operas, and naturally singing his works.
I tried to give up thinking about my work. I couldn’t however stop the disturbing images emerge in my mind, and I had to start analyzing “what went wrong, where did the enthusiasm disappear?”
Finally I crystallized the problem into a phrase that sounds like a paradox: “the learning processes did not result in necessary organizational change, although they did bring about the desired learning results and people felt good about the process.” The real change required eventually an intervention from the management, which usually did not make the people very happy.
“the learning processes did not result in necessary organizational change although they did bring about the desired learning results and the people felt good about the process.”
With great difficulty and anxiety I began to study what this phrase, my own thought, meant. The problem was complex and learning to understand it required hard thinking, but I knew it was right, the phrase was true.
During the period of analyzing my professional past I used to blame myself for lack of understanding, lack of experience, lack of knowledge – for lack of everything possible. My customers had however always been satisfied with my services, a fact that must have meant that I was not a total failure.
“Two basic rules of life are: 1) Change is inevitable. 2) Everybody resists change.” W. Edwards Deming
W. Edwards Deming is my “guru” in learning and quality issues and reading his book “Out of the crisis” is a neverending adventure into the realm of knowledge and wisdom of a man who knew how to think. Although I agree with point number one of the quotation above, I am not so sure about the second one. I have met people with true willingness to learn and change.
Some other reasons I figured out to be obstacles for change:
- The learning process did not meet with the real needs of change needed in the organization.
- People were resisting change or ignoring the need to change.
- There was not enough support from the management for the change to really happen.
- The training programs provided a lot of knowledge, but didn’t prepare to execute the change and confront its consequences.
- Learning was assumed complete when the training-programs were concluded.
And finally my naïve and simple statement:
- People and companies are not prepared to win – they don’t want to win, they rather focus on surviving.
People are not prepared to win. It is more important to feel safe and protected.
When I for the first time spoke out this idea, naively, with a childish voice, I felt funny. I thought that “the people don’t want to win” cannot be a real issue. At the same time an inner voice whispered that there is something in it, something deserving more thought.
Beginning the study
Discovering these obstacles I embarked upon studying what winning is. I tried to find out whether winning is the missing thought I had been looking for. I found some literature to study, but those books didn’t treat the subject from a viewpoint of learning, at least not enough nor in a way that I would have had my questions answered. Many books also presented the ideas of winning and learning by listing different ‘commandments’, which were as such useful, but I assumed that following ‘commandments’ doesn’t necessarily lead into a process that would combine the key elements of any true success, namely action and learning.
To find further knowledge about winning I sent an email inquiry to 70 persons with different professional backgrounds and asked them to answer three questions:
- What do you consider winning? Under what conditions would you call an experience a “winning” experience.
- What kind of experiences do you personally have about winning?
- What kinds of qualities do those people or groups you consider winners, have?
I received an answer from 35 persons. It was amazing to find out how vast the world of winning is. People had experienced winning in sports, in work, family relationships, school etc. Maybe the most surprising winning experience was the story of a middle aged man. This man said that he had felt a peculiar feeling of winning while standing at his fathers open grave in the funeral. His emotion was so strong that he burst in tears. Never before had he shown his emotions so openly. The sad situation forced him to open up and in the middle of all grief and sadness he felt like winning because he had crossed a huge life-restricting limit in him.
“I don’t like the idea of winning, it means that you have to beat someone else. That is not very nice, is it? However it would be great if team Finland could beat the Swedes in the ice-hockey world championship tournament…” email comment
The response was encouraging. Controversial attitudes towards winning and the way people communicated their desire to experience winning allowed me to think that I certainly must be on the right track. I figured that winning is the key to success and by studying winning I would find the recipe for successful learning and performing. The next step was to meet and discuss with people who have experienced peak-performance and winning in challenging situations.
My activities with Jokerit hockey-team gave me a good chance to discuss winning, learning and coaching with professional athletes and coaches. As a contribution for my study Jokerit won the championship 2002 after losing their six last games of the regular season. I had the chance to follow the team rising from the deepest pit to the highest top in just a few weeks time.
Right after the victorious finals I met the captain of the team to discuss winning. My first question for him was: “You have won so many times, tell me what is winning and how does one win?” The captain answered that winning is something that just happens; one just has to let it happen.
You just have to let winning happen.
Great! There was my idea of framing winning into a reasonable theory and practice. I realized though that what the captain said was right, and
— I had to change the viewpoint of my study. —
I understood that winning happens in a state where we don’t concentrate on winning, but rather immerse ourselves into the performance, letting our skills work automatically for the goal.
My new question was: “What kind of process is needed to lead us to the edge of winning, where we can just give in to the action and let winning happen for us”? I also understood that the attitude of winning is a mental model, which should be cultivated along the process preparing for the peak-performance.
“What kind of process is needed to lead us to the edge of winning, where we can just give in to action and let winning happen for us”
This was the beginning of a learning journey into the wonderful world of successful learning.
Later on I embarked upon observing my own singing process in order to find personal experience and meaning to the development of a skill. I carried out an introspective study which ended up with a recital with a very demanding repertoire in a concert hall with over a hundred listeners and a board of experts giving me feed-back.
The study has given me an opportunity to meet and discuss with interesting and wise people. It has also brought into my life a person who has helped me to change and make important shifts, not only as a singer but also as a human being. This wonderful person, great musician, pianist and teacher, Collin Hansen, is following us throughout the book sharing his wisdom and valuable ideas about learning and coaching.
The Winning Helix @ Amazon