Wednesday, November 8, 2006

The Joy of Winning and Other Atavisms

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

Back in my youth, even the mid-term elections caused the major networks to have all-evening news coverage.  But, along with gavel-to-gavel convention coverage (thank God), that disappeared, but CNN and MSNBC are going full time.  Let's see:  how many times have I heard the phrase "Democratic tsunami"?  Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann over at MSNBC are the least annoying of the anchors, plus they get appearances from Tim Russert and Tom Brokaw.

A line from Patton's famous speech to the troops came to mind:  "Americans love a winner.  Americans will not tolerate a loser."  I am watching various Democratic candidate headquarters, where they are whooping and cheering their victories.  And it struck me tonight that you can say all you want about "win-win," but there's nothing like "win-lose" to release what seems to me an incomparable and atavistic joy.  Understand I cannot speak to this from personal experience.  I never won anything in the political arena.  I ran for some kind of office every year in primary and secondary school from about sixth grade on, and never won a thing (well, not quite, I was president of the United Nations Study Group as a senior, but that's because nobody else was willing to do it).

But in these contexts, what does the joy of winning that provokes the whooping have to do with doing the job well?  I want to float a comparison from my practice and academic experience.  I whooped in litigation practice when we won a big decision.  I whooped (in the privacy of my living room) the first time I ever placed a law review article. My thesis is that to whoop requires a zero-sum game.  It is not enough to win; somebody else has to lose.

One of my commercial litigation partners was known for his distaste for getting involved in settlement negotiations shortly before trial, and I doubt he was the only one with this idiosyncrasy.  Getting prepared to win, and to cause someone else to lose, simply required a different emotional orientation to the world.  Another partner once told me that he discovered he liked settling cases better than fighting them, and that the transactional area was all about settling, not fighting.

I have closed a lot of deals, and been very, very happy to get them done, but I don't remember whooping with the joy of winning.

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