What Groucho Marx teaches us about win-win strategies


Groucho Marx, an American comedian, once wrote when resigning from a club that he didn’t want to belong to any club that would have him as a member.

Which, when we think about it, is often the way that we approach many situations.

Take selling or job hunting.

Many of us believe that if we make enough calls or apply to enough positions we’ll get somewhere – it’s a numbers game and we just need to make the numbers.

So we grind it out, spending day after day, and wondering why we aren’t getting anywhere fast.

That’s not a strategy – it’s a treadmill.

Terry Speed, Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley writing in the American Statistical Association membership magazine, suggests that a job hunter should instead make two lists.

  1. Where would I immediately accept a job offer?
  2. Which employers would be delighted to employ me?

It’s important that answers to both questions are unconditional – we accept and they offer without bargaining.

If we’re thinking like Groucho Marx, there is no win-win.

We want to work at places that may not want us. And we’re hesitant to consider the places that do.

According to Professor Speed, we’re in good shape and well calibrated if there is an overlap between the lists.

It’s worth spending the time to work out who really wants to – or will want to work with us because we can both benefit from collaborating.

That really means seeing if we’re aligned. No amount of external management or manipulation can overcome poor alignment of goals and expectations.

Conversely – sharing goals and aligning expectations means that we can spend less time on control and more time on execution.

Ideally then, we’d join clubs that we really wanted to be part of, and which would be delighted to have us as members.

But how do we know when this is the case – how do we know when we’re aligned?

There’s no easy answer to that question. It’s not something that can be assessed with a simple checklist.

We may just have to learn to look harder at what is in front of us until we can see.

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