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Participation Award

This year my daughter participated in her first ever school sports day. The final event was the sprint. All the kids lined up in their age groups and (most of them) ran their little hearts out.  The top three got the blue, green and yellow ribbons as they crossed the finish line and everyone else got a red one that said ‘competitor’.

Situations like this almost always spark discussions amongst parents and grandparents (or more accurately, broadcast of opinions) like “kids these days need to learn how to lose!” and “what’s the point of playing if no one wins?”

You see evidence of this attitude everywhere. Reducing everything is a zero sum game – designed for one person to win, and another to lose. Supposing that your individual worth is determined by bettering an opponent. Maybe in some circumstances, perhaps this is valid. But I kind of doubt it. I’m not really one to use sporting anecdotes, but I’m pretty sure there are plenty of AFL footballers who had very fulfilling careers and never won a premiership. I would even dare to say that some of their most memorable and satisfying games were ones that they may have ended up losing, but were a well fought out match.

A guy named James Carse refers to these as finite games. These are games where there is a winner and a loser, the rules are defined, and there are a specified number of players. The game usually goes for a specified amount of time and it’s based upon a model of scarcity. But he also talks about another type of game – infinite games. In an infinite game the aim isn’t to win, it’s to keep the game going. To enjoy the experience. You are reliant on other players to keep the game going. You want the people you are playing with to be capable players, otherwise the game will end prematurely or it will all fall in a heap.

This is the subject of Simon Sinek’s latest book The Infinite Game. It’s still on my ever growing to read list, but I’ve listened to him talk about it and I like what he has to say. He places this game theory in the context of businesses, and suggests that it’s the business who have an infinite approach that will lead us into the future. And I tend to agree with him.

If we take Pharmacy as an example, I think its fair to say that the reason we are in this position a profession is because for so many years we have been positioned within a scarcity model protecting community pharmacy. And it has failed us. It has not led to a profession striving for quality standards, it has led us to a race to the bottom. I don’t think it’s too late to turn it around, but it going to require some pretty strong leadership. And by leadership, I’m talking about the genuine type of leadership demonstrated by individuals taking action. Not the other kind.

My daughter got a red ribbon and she couldn’t have cared less where she finished in the race. Well, that’s not entirely true. There were a few super slow runners and I’m pretty sure she would have felt disappointed if she finished behind them! What mattered to her was that she went out there, ran as hard as she could and there was a crowd cheering her (and everybody else) on. It was fun! With the school’s encouragement, she was able to have the mindset of an infinite game, and felt much happier for it. And she went to bed that night with her tokenistic red ribbon pinned to her PJs and a big smile on her face.