Someone Loses When Everybody Wins

I would swear sometimes that Seth Godin is spying on me and then writing blog posts based on what I am thinking at the time. Or maybe he is just good at writing stuff that you can easily project your own experiences upon.

In any case, today he wrote about how you can make people feel like outsiders even if that is not your intention.

You can’t have insiders unless you have outsiders.

And you can’t have winners unless you have losers.

That doesn’t mean that you’re required to create insiders and winners. All it means is that when people begin to measure themselves only in comparison to others (“How did I rank?”) then you need to accept the impact of those choices.

It’s entirely possible to be happy and engaged and productive without creating this dynamic. But in a culture based on scarcity, it’s often easier to award or deduct points and to keep a scoreboard instead.

Just yesterday I cited Nina Simon’s Palo Alto TED Talk where she talks about this very idea. In her talks and book, The Art of Relevance, she mentions that even if you are providing more opportunities for a wider range of people and not reducing service or access to the demographics you have long served, there will be people who will view themselves as having lost out in the process.

I have written about two of Nina’s talks on the subject before so I won’t expound too much on the subject except to reiterate Godin’s point that you need to understand people may evaluate their situation in these terms.

Godin’s last sentence is particularly applicable to arts organizations who definitely operate in a culture of scarcity and are apt to adopt score keeping.   The state arts council or large foundation may be pleased that they have been able to increase funding in your community by 25% over last year. Instead of viewing this as a testament to the burgeoning creative vitality in the community, it can be easy to focus on the fact that another organization got more than you even though your own funding didn’t decrease, or decide you would have gotten more funding if not for the 5 new organizations that emerged in the last two years.

From this perspective, you might begin to empathize with the long time insider who insists they have lost out even as you believe everyone in the community should be excited that your hard work and sincerity opened new doors for a wider range of people without closing off existing opportunities.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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