Cobalt Communications The Art + Science of Understanding

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It was Knute Rockne, the legendary football coach at the University of Notre Dame, who said, “Winning too often is as disastrous as losing too often. Both get the same results: the falling off of the public's enthusiasm.” It’s a wry statement, but beyond the humor, Rockne’s observation underscores the fine line between winning and losing and between winners and losers. The science of winning is interesting and has begun to illustrate that who wins and who loses is not strictly coded in our genes, nor is it God playing with dice. It’s about when and how we take risks, which does involve some hard wiring, as well as some external pressures from the environment. Keep reading to learn more about winning and winners.

Win Big or Go Home? Maybe It Should Be Go Home and Win Big

Winning can mean many things, but to many people, it means winning the lottery. And this is true even though winning a lottery is not easy — and doesn’t automatically lead to an easier life. If you don’t believe it, consider these facts: the odds of winning a typical Powerball jackpot remain 1 in 292 million; if you do win, assuming it’s a prize over $5,000, the IRS will take 24 percent of the prize; and, finally, a 2004 study found that 85.5 percent of American winners continued to work after winning the lottery.

So, you might think twice before you invest in those weekly lottery tickets. But if you decide to play, you should pay attention to where you live. Data suggests that certain states are luckier than others. (Can you say Hoosier, anyone?)

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Competition is pervasive in our culture. The drive to win, to succeed, may be one of the most basic instincts of all — and remains a powerful force in human nature. Ancient humans competed against each other for food, shelter and mates, and the winners were those most likely to pass on their genes.
Do you know people who seem obsessed with winning, whether it’s competing for attention on social media, beating last month’s sales figures, buying the biggest house in the neighborhood or lifting the heaviest weights at the gym? Chances are they have the “winner gene.”

In 1957, Dr. Julius Axelrod — an American biochemist who was later awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine — discovered that the gene responsible for competitiveness controls dopamine levels in the brain, which have a significant effect on whether people perform well under pressure and stress. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter — a chemical released by neurons to send signals to other neurons. One of the pathways through which dopamine flows plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior.

What Is Your Competitive Style?

In a Forbes interview with Ashley Merryman, co-author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, the science journalist explains, “The competitive gene regulates the recycling of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that deals with high-level planning, thinking, memory, rule-changing and adaptation. An enzyme from a gene variation determines whether a person will be a worrier or a warrior.”

Typically, ‘warriors’ don’t have enough dopamine, so they are less likely to pay attention to details. But because moments of stress and pressure bring dopamine to optimum levels, it can actually help warriors perform at their best. If you’re a warrior, look for a job in an environment where there are new projects, activities and learning curves, so you can push yourself and stay engaged in your role.
On average, according to Merryman, ‘worriers’ have higher levels of dopamine, which give them advantages such as better memories and longer attention spans. If you’re a worrier, you will succeed in a job that requires planning and complex thought, but in moments of stress, you can feel overwhelmed.

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
—Vince Lombardi

Of course, your competitive makeup isn’t your destiny. Although you can’t change your genetic code, you can figure out the competitive style that best suits you to enhance your chances for success, just as you can adapt to a source of stress and be able to better manage it.

Are You Playing to Win?

There is no ideal type of competitor, says Merryman — people are either playing to win, which requires focusing on success, or playing not to lose, which requires focusing on preventing mistakes.

“If you want to grow, if you want to challenge yourself, if you want to innovate, you have to force yourself to be playing to win.”


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Winning Ways in the Workplace

A 2017 workplace survey by Gallup reports that 85% of employees are “not engaged or are actively disengaged at work.” The survey finds that the economic consequences of this global ‘norm’ are approximately $7 trillion in lost productivity annually.
How can you harness the instinct to win to engage your employees and improve productivity? If your workforce is predominantly made up of 30-something millennials, competition may a be a good thing.

“Engaging the hearts, minds, and hands of talent is the most sustainable source of competitive advantage .”– Greg Harris, Quantum Workplace

Although millennials are often called the “trophy generation” for being rewarded just for participating, studies show they thrive on competition. But they are a naturally collaborative group, too, so the best way to motivate them, many say, is to make competition fun and design it to help them better understand their roles and how to excel in them.

According to Gallup, “the new workforce is looking for things like purpose, opportunities to develop, ongoing conversations, a coach rather than a boss, and a manager who leverages their strengths rather than obsessing over their weaknesses. They see work and life as interconnected, and they want their job to be a part of their identity.”

“Engagement is a renewable daily decision that is voluntarily given when the company has proven worthy of it.” –Jason Lauritsen, Talent Anarchy

Balancing Healthy Competition with Emotional Connection

In his 2016 book Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, social scientist Dan Ariely shows that motivation is tied to how closely employees feel connected to their work and the company—and the degree to which others appreciate their work.

“When we are acknowledged for our work, we are willing to work harder for less pay, and when we are not acknowledged, we lose much of our motivation,” says Ariely.

“When you lavish praise on people, they flourish. Criticize, and they shrivel up.” – Richard Branson, Virgin Group
Experts find that because no two people are motivated the same way, you should offer a blend of recognition tactics to keep your employees engaged and motivated in a variety of ways, for example:

  • Help people feel connected to your organization by making your company culture inclusive. Create emotional bonds by celebrating achievements, business wins, as well as employee anniversaries.
  • Organize events that include employees’ families, such as summer picnics or holiday celebrations, to create shared experiences and deepen emotional attachment to your company.
  • Connect the company’s mission and values to performance, such as teamwork, quality, and empowerment, to reinforce corporate values and strengthen a sense of belonging.
  • Promote interactive engagement through healthy, structured competition that’s rewarded with incentives, through events such as fundraisers, sales contests, or even a product naming competition. These events can bring people together to compete in a friendly environment where they can be recognized for their achievements.
  • Offer a variety of rewards to recognize accomplishments — for example, pool points from all initiatives from which employees can redeem their points for a selection of awards — to offer choices and acknowledge individual differences.
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Learn more:

Download a free copy of the Gallup report, “State of the Global Workplace”

Get a
free ebook from Quantum Workplace featuring 50 inspirational quotes from leaders on employee engagement and workplace culture

Top 10 Most Watched Sporting Events in the World

Ever wonder which sporting events attract the most viewers? Although you might be thinking Super Bowl or the so-called World Series, not one of the top 10 most-watched events is American.

Forging a Prized Reputation

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Winning isn’t just for athletes, of course. Some of the most famous — and prestigious — awards in the world are the prizes established by Alfred Nobel, a Swedish inventor, engineer, scientist and businessman who also wrote poetry and drama. Nobel’s many interests are reflected in the prize he established in 1895 when he wrote his last will, specifying that the bulk of his fortune should be used to recognize “those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind” in the categories of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace (economic sciences was added much later in tribute to Nobel). The Nobel Foundation provides a wealth of information about prizes and prize winners on its website, including an inspiring video, “Women Who Changed the World” highlighting the achievements of women around the world who have been awarded a prize.

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Ali, Namath, Secretariat — we remember winners because they overcame staggering odds to reach the pinnacle of their sport. But if there’s a winner, there must be a loser.

History’s winners and losers can teach us a lot about how to communicate effectively. In this article, we consider a few classic victor vs. vanquished duos to uncover important marketing lessons. And if you want to see some other historic matchups,
check out this PDF of our recent mailer.

Road Runner vs Wile E. Coyote
How does the Roadrunner always manage to stay one step ahead? He’s extremely resourceful and clever, yes, but the biggest reason has to do with agility. In marketing circles, agility refers to the ability to quickly assess market trends, make rapid business decisions and remove uncertainty. Move too slowly in marketing, and you could be run over, which is why Roadrunner says, “meep meep” — he wants you to get out of his way.

If the Roadrunner has an abundance of agility, Coyote has an abundance of perseverance. If he had given up after a few failures, the TV show would have ended after the first episode.
Don’t let your marketing efforts be stalled by fear of failure. Push forward and success will surely follow. And stay away from Acme-branded resources or tools — they always fail.

Washington vs Cornwallis
Washington led by example. He set a high bar for his men, but he kept the bar just as high for himself. As a result, morale was high, and he was ultimately able to emerge victorious in the American Revolution. This is what leading by example can do for you — it can help you rally the troops, even when disaster seems imminent.

Cornwallis may have been defeated by Washington, but he didn’t shrink way in disgrace. In fact, he went on to have an illustrious post-Revolution career, reforming the organization of the East India Company, defeating the Tipu Sultan of Mysore and overcoming a limited French invasion in 1798. You can enjoy this “Cornwallis effect” as long as you don’t collapse when adversity presents itself.

VHS vs Betamax
Betamax may have come first, but VHS won out. All of which proves that being first to the market is not a guarantee of success. Even though they didn’t possess the better technology, VHS machines were lighter, played for longer, and were cheaper — features that attracted consumers. It’s a great lesson in Knowing Thy Audience.

Sony, the maker of Betamax, may have ultimately lost the battle of the videotape players, but they did stick to their guns, standing behind a “quality matters” messaging campaign. Sometimes, even in marketing, even when failure looms, it’s best to stay true to your core values and organizational principles — because some sacrifices aren’t worth making.

Billie Jean King vs Bobby Riggs
If Billie Jean King let boundaries stop her, she wouldn’t have won 39 Grand Slam titles as a professional tennis player. Marketers should also allow themselves to think and act beyond boundaries. They should take chances, blaze new trails and make bold, courageous moves. No one was ever remembered for following the rules.

Bobby Riggs didn’t respect his opponent. Would he have emerged victorious in the infamous Battles of the Sexes if he respected King’s skill? Who knows? What we do know is that his general lack of respect for women’s tennis set him up for a major fall. As a brand, pulling a Bobby Riggs could lead to similar disaster. To market effectively, you have to understand the competition, acknowledge their strengths and decide how to attack them.

Jonas Salk vs Polio
Jonas Salk’s journey to eradicate polio began with small steps. Salk first administered the vaccine to a small group of volunteers who never had polio, including himself, his lab scientist, his wife and their children. When that test worked, he began national testing with one million children — the Polio Pioneers — proving that the vaccine was safe and effective. As marketers, we can learn a lot from Salk’s approach. Start small, iterate quickly and test continuously.

The virus responsible for polio is successful because it can overwhelm its host. In tissue culture, poliovirus enters cells and replicates in six to eight hours, yielding 10,000 to 100,000 virus particles per cell! Sometimes, throwing resources at a problem can lead to success. For example, building a website often requires a dedicated army of writers, designers and developers to complete the project quickly.

Mammals vs Dinosaurs
You might think that mammals appeared only after dinosaurs became extinct, but that’s not the case. Mammals lived alongside dinosaurs for more than 150 million years, though they were primarily small nocturnal animals. It was only after the demise of dinosaurs that mammals got big and inherited the earth. If you’re a small brand, there’s a lesson in our long-ago ancestors: occupy your niche, remain patient and eventually your time to dominate the market may come.

By the same token, being a dinosaur can’t be all bad. Sure, they eventually disappeared (or evolved into feathery modern dinosaurs), but they were the dominant group of animals for more than 180 million years. How did they become so successful? They diversified to fill every available ecological niche. As a business, diversification may be just as useful, enabling you to take advantage of momentum in a new market, or to minimize the risk of your core market shrinking.

Thomas Edison vs Nikola Tesla
Okay, it might be debated which inventor, Edison or Tesla, was the real winner, but for the symmetry of our article, we’re going to label Edison as the winner based on the sheer weight of his invention record (Edison held 1,1039 patents versus Tesla’s 300). In fact, Edison’s approach to innovation — disciplined, systematic, collaborative — provides a helpful lesson to marketers looking to multiply their ideation efforts.

Of course, Tesla can teach us just as much. Though his name isn’t as recognizable as Edison’s, his contributions to our modern way of living are enormous. He is best known for the alternating-current system of electric power transmission, as well as the core concepts of wireless communication — ideas born from a wildly eccentric imagination. While there’s a place for Edison’s factory-like approach to innovation in modern marketing, there’s also a place for Tesla’s flights of fancy and wildly imaginative thinking.

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Cobalt’s Understanding(x) Series examines complex topics with the goal of increasing understanding among laypeople. At the end of each year, we hope to have a portfolio of materials about the chosen topics that will become part of the public record — a resource for teachers, students and citizens to draw upon in their quest for clarity and connection. If you have any suggestions for topics to be considered, drop us a line.