The inner game

I am not a winner.

My thinking goes somewhat like this. All desire is really ego, letting go of the ego is the best thing. But without the desire to win, where to summon the determination? Is there such a thing as an ego-less desire to win?


Twitter pointed me to this book about tennis! that attempts to answer this question – and it is amazing! Using tennis as the backdrop, the author points out that winning is really about overcoming internal challenges that enable you to grow. For example in the game of tennis, if you really want to only focus on winning the game – the best thing is that your opponent continuously double faults! But in order to really enjoy the game and make your performance excel – you need your opponent to have a great serve. Your opponent playing well forces you to play better – and you learn to get better!

Focusing on growing and getting better at what you do is the inner game. The outer game is the scoreboard and what is called “winning” in the traditional sense. I always conflated the outer game with the inner game. It’s the inner game that matters. Winning in this inner game has the bonus side effect of increasing your odds in winning the outer game!

This concept has broad applicability to product management as well. All your vanity metrics of fundraising, mentions in the press are the outer game. Building a product that people want, building a company that is sustainable in the long run – that is the inner game. Win at the inner game and this increases your odds at winning at the outer game!

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