Posted on December 1, 2010


A little before noon on Tuesday, November 30, 2010, I verified my final word count for National Novel Writing Month. I had 50,011 words. Instead of taking me back to my novel info page, it took me to a page congratulating me for being a winner. I felt an irrational elation rise through me. It’s irrational because I didn’t “win” anything. I just wrote enough words to complete the project – although I have a ways to go on the novel itself.

It got me thinking, though: Most people don’t win often enough in life. They don’t succeed enough. That’s what makes it unexpectedly wonderful to be called a winner. Why don’t we?

Partly we don’t because of the implications. Being a winner is worthless unless you win something. Being a winner is worthless unless there’s an alternative to winning. Sensitive, compassionate people don’t like creating situations where someone has to lose. There’s enough loss in this world already. When I finished my word-count, I had a record of it on the website. I got access to some graphics, and to a certificate. I got my sense of satisfaction, and of accomplishment. Did anyone lose? No. Some people didn’t finish, but most of those are resolved to do better next year. It’s very well designed, and the psychology totally works.

I once worked at a company that created a marketing contest. Whoever had the best idea at the end of the contest would win a budget (I think it was $5000, regardless of what budget was needed) and would be in charge of executing the idea. So, here was a project where there would be one winner – not multiple – and the prize was more work without the resources, necessarily, to get it done. Okay, the winner got a sense of accomplishment (if I remember right, the winning idea was actually pretty good).

So, here’s your project: Set a goal, and get everyone in the office to participate.

  • There has to be the possibility of multiple winners.
  • There can’t be losers – none of this “First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado…Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.”
  • The prize has to mean something to the participants – recognition, accomplishment, vacation time, bonus pay, whatever.

Go for broke!