The virtue of indifference to outcome
Many moons ago, the actor Richard Gere played a knight teaching another his approach to sword fighting. There was this call-and-response pattern, where Gere dispatches wisdom and his pupil affirms his ability to the the wise thing.
Gere: “You have to know that one moment in every fight when you win or lose and you have to know to wait for it.”
Student: “I can do that.”
Gere: “And you have to not care whether you live or die.”
Indifference to outcome. For some that might seem a mistake. Shouldn’t we care, deeply care, about whether we win or lose, succeed or fail? Isn’t that all that matters? Heck, isn’t that what Green Bay Packer coach (and legend) Vince Lombardi said: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” The only thing.
I’m going to try to pull off a little nuance and magic here. Yes, outcome matters. That’s the aim for strategy. The world exists in some way and we want to succeed in changing it according to our desires, whether that be defeating an adversary, earning a contract over competitors, or winning a championship over rivals. So yes, outcome matters.
But just the same, it matters that we can approach these competitions and challenges with indifference in our hearts and minds. No matter the outcome of any given trial—except for exactly once in our lives—we will have to get up and go for another round tomorrow. So it behooves the strategist to cultivate a sense of indifference to outcome of any given challenge. Here’s why.