Can You Win Without Someone Else Losing?

Feb 19, 2024

Everybody talks about a win/win. The problem is, most people operate from a framework that doesn’t really allow for win/win. At their core, most people really believe that for me to win, someone else has to lose.

Let me give you a conceptual example—for instance, power. Most people treat power as if it is a holding circle. There’s a finite amount of pie, and so for me to get a big piece (or maybe even the whole pie), I’ve got to keep you from it. In other words, power is a fixed commodity.

It’s not just power, though. It’s in every arena:

  • Business (“There’s a finite number of customers, so I’ve got to get them”)
  • Relationships (“If someone else wins the respect or admiration of my friends, peers, or co-workers, then they respect me less”)
  • Theology (“God only has so much forgiveness, so I’d better not use it all up”)

David Brooks wrote about it before the 2016 presidential electionbut it seems true in so many elections, when he noted that “Both [candidates] ultimately hew to a distrustful, stark, combative, zero-sum view of life—the idea that … given other people’s selfish natures, vulnerability is dangerous.” And that was before the polarization of the past six years. It’s only getting worse.

What about you? Which mindset do you operate with at your core? Do you have a scarcity mindset or an abundance mindset? Here’s some insight into each position to help you identify yourself.

Scarcity Mindset

The scarcity mindset believes there are always winners and losers. As the legendary baseball manager Casey Stengal joked, “Without losers, where would the winners be?”  That’s the way most people live and work. Like it or not, they say, for me to do well, I’ve got to make someone lose.

That makes sense in the world of sports and two-party elections and it likely feels like it makes sense when a serious economic downturn hits, but if that’s your dominant framework, it creates glass ceilings on your life and work and leaves you pretty unhealthy.  

Are you wondering if that’s you? Here are three qualities of scarcity people. What would you score in these areas?

  • Fear based: At all costs, avoid failure because failure is losing. Therefore, you are extremely risk-averse in decision-making and imagination.
  • Self-protective: If something goes wrong, you always have someone or something to blame. You desperately want credit for good ideas or for the big break for the company. At the core of every narcissist is a scarcity mentality.
  • Unable to rest: Vigilance is a good thing, but we’re talking about an inability to shut off. Every opportunity must be sought out, every advantage exploited, every moment maximized. Otherwise, someone else might gain the advantage.

This is bigger than a new CVS coming into town and trying to steal Walgreen’s business.  This is about a mindset that is always in competition, looking for the edge to win and to defeat. But the one who ends up defeated is usually the one trying so desperately to win. Scarcity is a nasty loop of death.

Abundance Mindset

If you’ve ever been energized by being around a particular person and you weren’t exactly sure why, you were probably around a person of abundance. You usually walk away from time spent with them thinking, “Wow. They were really interested in me.” You get the sense that they are at peace with just about everything and everyone.

You might also recognize them because abundance people are often introducing you to others. They love getting good people together because they believe the more good people know each other, the more progress is advanced—no matter who gets the credit. This is a person who doesn’t believe in the power circle or any other finite, win-lose framework for life and work.  

Here’s what else marks these people. They are:

  • Cheerleaders: Abundance people are quick to celebrate the good ideas of others and encourage them in their life and work. Why? Because they believe the good ideas and work of one person benefit us all.
  • Courageous: It doesn’t bother these folks to fail. They’re not threatened by the idea of someone else succeeding while they fail (at least someone succeeded!), so they’ll try new ideas, expecting to learn from them.
  • GenerousIt doesn't have to mean you give away cars, but there's a default posture that abundance folks have.They’re generous with their money, with their time, with the credit for ideas and production. They are truly big church, big community, and big world people.

It’s not that these folks are naïve and hear a stock market crash and think “No worries! There’s plenty out there!” It’s that their mindset is that there is more together than if we all just try and snatch the biggest piece of the pie.

I remember years ago reading an article by the American Protestant Old Testament scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann, titled: The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity: Consumerism and Religious Life” with the headline, “Pharaoh introduces the principle of scarcity into the world economy.” Check it out sometime. It will unearth the roots of this topic, but it will be up to you to make the contextual applications into your life and work. 


If it’s not clear already, you need to make the shift away from any finite circle of scarcity and into an abundance mindset. Sure, there’s room for competition and ambition. I’m not so naïve as to say that there’s always room for one more competitor in the market. However, we cannot live and work in a scarcity mindset.

Let me give you three reasons:

  1. Abundance organizations have greater innovation. Harvard Business Review once cited silo-ism as the single biggest killer of innovation in the workplace. Abundant leadership encourages cross-training, collaboration, and partnership. They’re not worried about the credit, and therefore, they do away with the silo mentality.
  2. Abundance leaders gain the trust and admiration of co-workers, clients, customers, and competitors. Maybe not right at first, but over time, everyone wants to be around people who are humble and share the credit. Humility gains trust and trust brings respect and authority.
  3. Abundance individuals walk in peace and contentment. Scripture makes clear that God does not have a limited amount of grace, forgiveness, mercy, joy, money, etc. Therefore, there is no worry of one wrong choice messing everything up or a few wrong choices really putting you on God’s bad side.

David Brooks, in the New York Times article I referenced earlier, calls it “The Avalanche of Distrust.” He says that distrust has led to a decline in community bonds and corroded intimacy. Distrustful people, he writes, “End up isolating themselves, alienating others, and corroding their inner natures.” Millennials are cynical about everything and Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers are chronically lonely, and the cycle is self-perpetuating. Gen Z may actually lead in this somewhat with their connectivity to each other, but they too have a “take care of self” mindset that comes from scarcity thinking.

What’s the solution? It’s growing and disciplining yourself to an abundance mindset. A scarcity mentality always feeds the dark demons lurking around your heart but the abundance mindset feeds the true, the good, and the beautiful. Which kind of person are you? 

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