Saturday, November 26, 2011


Speaking with two Asian MD's who have been in this country quite a while, I mentioned in reference to Anglophilism, that the British have long disliked what Americans used to call "pep," then "drive," and such cliches as "win-win."  I rather apologised for the cliched nature of win-win, and our trying to sell that idea to people, because it doesn't always work, and some people abuse it.

Both agreed that only Americans believe that win-win situations are even possible.  One thought that was a positive, the other echoed the opinion of the rest of the world that win-win was just a disguise for the person getting 90% of the good throwing a bone for the one getting 10%.  I tentatively (not knowing if it were an offensive stereotype) asked if he meant something similar to saving face.  He agreed that this was exactly it.  Victors in China either eliminate their opponents entirely or give them some 10% to save face. (Okay, you said it, not I.)

The other was quite adamant.  No, in America it is sometimes, even often true.  It is not a cliche because it is a delusion, but because it happens.  Of course it doesn't always happen, but why should I be surprised at that?

I gave my usual demurrer that "Americans" included, to some extent, the other British colonies, and that Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders were likely similar.  They shrugged. Perhaps. But I was speaking from pure guesswork, not knowing enough about the other Anglospheric cultures to know if win-win is indeed a common idea in those places.

I wonder now if the British especially dislike the cliche because they are one of the cultures that at least understands it, but it happens even less there.

Let me be on record as believing that win-win situations are indeed possible, and resenting the cliche much less than I did a few days ago.  That the term is abused and isn't always true seems far less of a worry - since it seems to be the normal course of human interactions - than the idea that it is possible at all a rather stunning legacy for America to the world.


lelia said...

I did not realize that it was a rare concept. May the idea grow and prosper.

Gringo said...

The buying and selling process is supposed to be a win-win situation. The purchaser purchases an item he wants to purchase. The seller sells something he wants to sell. While there have been some times over the years when I have made bad decisions in my purchases, generally I have benefited from my purchases.

dmoelling said...

It comes from our free market background. As Gringo said, markets are almost always win/win. In many parts of the world (including Britain) class, family or political ties are much more important. Crushing your opponent is important to your survival.

Brits have a much more cynical corporate culture than the US. It's very "Terribly Sorry about the knife in your back". Mid level British execs really have a tough time adapting to the US business culture.

Texan99 said...

I assume so readily that win-win is a real and common phenomenon that it surprises me very much to hear people doubt it. I'm sure the concept is often abused by people who intend their part of the win to be quite real and that of their partner-in-trade to be largely imaginary, but that doesn't mean that most profitable human interactions don't leave both sides better off. If that weren't so, why would people live in societies? Why not each human in his own tree alone in the forest?