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Art of creating win-win outcomes at scale
Learning the art of adding specific value
Learn to create win-win outcomes at scale. Your goal is to make other people successful without burning out.
My mission in life is to help interesting people do interesting things. I measure my success on how I help others succeed. Through Network Capital, writing, speaking and in everything I do, I ask myself who will benefit from my endeavors the most. Once that is clear, I find myself energized and ready to go the extra mile. Sometimes seeing the result of your work becomes unclear if you are working in a large conglomerate or serving customers you can’t really visualize. With more and more people working for themselves and embarking on the passion economy path, people are discovering novel ways to connect with who they are serving.
The key is to create win-win outcomes at scale. In any relationship, 4 outcomes are possible.
Win-Lose: This is when you get the outcome you want but the other party feels they have got the unfavorable outcome.
Lose-Win: When you invest time and energy that led to a meaningful outcome for the other party but you feel under appreciated. If this happens repeatedly, you will find yourself drained of energy, burnt out and exploited.
Lose-Lose: This is the worst of all worlds. Both you and your collaborator feel they have lost by investing in the relationship.
Win-Win: When you do things that help both you and collaborator achieve meaningful outcomes. I have observed that creating win-win outcomes is more about empathy than skill. One needs to train oneself to look at problem from the lens of our collaborator. What would propel them to succeed? How can you create such synergistic relationships that leave you more inspired than drained?
As a creator or someone venturing into the passion economy, you need to enable these win-win outcomes to scale with the power of code, media and most importantly, word of mouth. Stories scale. When you serve people in a way that serves and delights them, they are likely to talk about it with their friends. That’s how you start building a brand for yourself as someone who makes others win.
Lenny Rachitsky, the AirBnB product manager turned newsletter writer, has an interesting introduction on his personal website. “I write a newsletter, angel invest, run a job board, and generally just try to be helpful.”
To me “generally just try to be helpful” is the most interesting part of his introduction. It connotes that part of his identity is focused on serving others. It establishes his brand as a giver and signals to his readers, consumers of his job board and people raising investments that he is someone they can lean on for guidance.
As we discussed in the section on access economy, people don’t pay as much for things as they do for deeper access through unique experiences. And who do people want access to? Do you think people want access to those who are obsessed with their individual goals with no regard to others? No, helpful givers who have the reputation for adding specific value to others are always in demand. People think that deeper access to them would be helpful to expand the pie for everyone involved.
Paul Erdos, probably the most loved, most networked and most talented mathematician, was known far more for being the creator of win-win outcomes at scale than any technical achievement (although he had many). The Fields Medal is the highest honor in mathematics. Erdos never won it, but several people he helped did. Erdos is best known for the “Erdos Number”. It wasn’t a theorem or a tool, but a measure of how close you were to working with Paul Erdos. Research has shown that, in many cases, mathematical prowess is proportional to how closely you worked with/were influenced by Erdos. Two Nobel prize winners in physics have an Erdos Number of 2. Fourteen have an Erdos Number of 3. As Erik Barker puts it (drawing upon Adam Grant’s research), Erdos made people great.
So what can you do to make people great, how can you enable your customers and partners to flourish? Don’t worry much about your talent, seniority or influence. Win-win outcomes come down to intent, changing focus from yourself to others.
The key is to not exhaust yourself. Balancing your goals with that of others is critical. I try to do my bit to make others great but I know that I can only serve others if I take care of myself and remain energized by my core mission. I have specific time blocked on my calendar titled “Help Others”. I conduct office hours, make helpful introductions, point people to the right sources in this slot. This leaves me motivated to work on my personal and organizational goals for the rest of the day. I have noticed that when I am less structured about this process, my overall efficacy drops. I am unable to help others effectively and unable to make progress on my goals.
Say you are a community builder. Your ultimate success will come from making your community member successful. By making them successful, you will automatically inch closer towards your goal but it is important you orient yourself that way. The reverse may not be true. Suppose you achieve great personal success and glory, that does not mean that your community members will reach their goals. That is perhaps why so many celebrities and influencers who have tried to launch companies/communities fail.
The same principle is at play in almost every job today. Whether you are a teacher, a newsletter writer, a video creator, a coach, your success will be measured by who you serve and how. You may not be able to guarantee success but people will remember whether you tried sincerely or not.
The following 4 steps will be useful to keep in mind.
1. Start from those you are trying to serve: Visualize your primary stakeholder. Think about their goals and objectives. Try and articulate what success looks like for them.
2. Understand their unmet needs: People you are trying to serve may be facing challenges they aren’t able to overcome themselves. They may be looking for a fresh perspective, someone to help fit the pieces of their jigsaw puzzle together.
3. Figure out the specific value you can add to their lives: This involves creating a fit between your skills and the core needs of people you are trying to serve. Suppose an athlete trying to prepare for a challenging race comes to you – a behavioral economist. You may not be equipped to give her/him advice on the right diet or training regimen but you could very well offer techniques to use right nudges to overcome inevitable challenges that are likely to emerge. You may have ideas to make constraints work for the athlete based on interesting studies you have read/ experiments you have conducted. You cannot be everything to everyone but you surely can develop the art of adding deeper specific value to others at scale.
4. Develop a strategy to make it happen: Strategy is a lot about avoiding tempting traps and pitfalls. You need to figure out a way to help those you are trying to serve help themselves.
Relationships that last, partnerships that work are often where all parties involved grow together, succeed together. They key is to figure out efficient, synergetic ways to make it happen.