Investing in Loss

When a performer first starts out in a new system or level of play, they have to take apart their game and learn a new set of skills. If the performer is expected to perform brilliantly in her first few games in a new system, she will definitely disappoint. Josh Waitzkin (in his book, “The Art of Learning”) calls this principle “investing in loss.”

The gifted boxer with a fabulous right and no left will get beat up while he tries the jab. And, the excellent soccer player with no left foot will be significant less effective while she invests in it. And, yet, investing in loss is the only way forward.

But, how do you do it in competitive arenas like our working lives where there are seldom weeks when performance doesn’t matter?

Josh’s response is to have an incremental approach that allows for times when you are not in peak performance state. We must take responsibility for our own learning and not expect the rest of the world to understand what it takes to be the best we can become. Michael Jordan made more last minute shots to win the game for his team. But, he also missed more last-minute shots to lose the game than any other player.

We have to be willing to look bad to get good.

PS: I love this framing. I think of this as part of the “What got you here won’t get you there” principle. We have to commit to reinventing ourselves from time to time. This framing makes it clear that the reinvention doesn’t come easy.