This article originally appeared at Forbes.com.
No one goes into an endeavor planning to lose. No one wonders, “How can I be just marginal?”
Dr. Jeff Spencer has traveled the world with winners. He’s been on the road nine times in 15 years with the U.S. cycling team in the Tour de France. He’s traveled with the iconic rock band U2. He’s stood on the sideline with many of the world’s most winning athletes, executives and teams to witness something he calls “The Champion’s Blueprint.”
“Getting to the top is not the hardest part,” Spencer told us. “Staying at the top — of a sport, a career or any endeavor—is what requires something special. To stay there you need to have a champion mindset. And, the good news is, that mindset can be learned.”
Spencer, however, isn’t the only one analyzing the skills, attributes and habits of those who win consistently. Numerous studies, articles, books and training programs throughout the past few decades have focused on trying to unravel the secrets to mega success. And, as intriguing as they all might sound, there’s one element that seems to get overlooked: the losers — what didn’t they do? What did they miss? And, is it their fault?
Kevin Fleming, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Grey Matters International, a company that provides coaching, development and behavior change consultations based on neuroscience, told us, “It’s not necessarily our fault when we lose. Our brains lead us to a feeling of being right. If that’s wrong, you could lose.”
After a long discussion about winners versus losers, the two of us were more curious than ever: If people don’t want to lose, what aren’t they doing when they approach a competition, a project or life in general? What are losers missing?
“We thought we would discover personality types, or attributes or experience levels that would separate winners from non-winners,” said Mark Cook, one of the analysts at the O.C. Tanner Institute who culled through a sample of 1.7 million cases of award-winning work. “What we found was not what we expected.”
“Losers aren’t necessarily losing,” added Cook. “They’re just not winning. And, it’s not because of who they are, how smart they are or how much experience they have. They’re not winning because they don’t do certain things.”
The Great Work Study, a cooperative effort between the O.C. Tanner Institute, Forbes Insights and the Cicero Group, studied 10,000 cases of award-winning work, surveyed 1,000 managers and employees, and conducted 200 one-on-one interviews to discover that winning awards (at least at work) boils down to five simple skills anyone can do, if they choose.
What don’t losers do that could lead them to the winner’s circle?
1. They don’t pause. The researchers discovered that award-winning workers slow down to ensure they’re asking the right questions about the work they do. They’re curious about who their audience is and who is the recipient of their work. In fact, according to the study, 88 percent of award-winning projects begin with a person pausing to ask the question, “What difference could I make that others would love?”
2. They don’t go to where their work is received. It’s easy to sit behind our computer screens and assume we’re giving the recipients of our work great solutions. But, award-winning workers actually go watch their work being received. The research revealed that people who go and see are 17 times more likely to become passionate about their work.
3. They don’t talk to strangers. According to the study, award-winners reach outside of their inner circle and ask for opinions and connections of others. They want to know the good, the bad and the people who may help them move forward with their idea. As many as 72 percent of award-winning projects involve people talking to their outer circle.
4. They don’t tweak stuff. An old saying goes, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” People who win awards at work seem to take that statement to heart. Instead of trying to invent something new, they add or subtract something from an existing product or process that the recipients of their work will love. The research showed that projects are three times more likely to be considered “important” when someone has added or removed an element or two.
5. They don’t stick with it. Approaching any endeavor with the intent to create a difference someone loves requires workers to follow their projects until the recipients of their work love it. In fact, 90 percent of award-winning work projects include people and teams who follow the work all the way through implementation and beyond. The term “losers” might be a bit harsh when referring to those who don’t win. Still, it can be brutally frustrating to watch others reap the accolades when your effort might be just as admirable.
“Winning is a mindset,” said Spencer. “It’s something practiced.”
We agree. According to the research, it’s a practice of five simple skills.
David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom work with the O.C. Tanner Institute. Learn more about The New York Times bestseller "Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love" (McGraw-Hill) at www.greatwork.com.