Mitt Romney lost the election, and just like that, nearly a billion dollars went down the drain, with nothing at all to show for it. The favors have been called in, the TV commercials have been used up, and — aside from a stack of paper plates and the world’s last box of Hostess Twinkies – there ain’t nothin’ left. (Okay, I made that last part up, but you get the idea.) Here’s how the The Daily Beast put it:
On Wednesday morning, Mitt Romney woke up to the realization that he will not be spending the next four years in the Oval Office. Those plans for the transition? Throw them in the trash. That protective security bubble that has kept watch over you night and day and ferried you from city to city will be punctured. And a campaign that has been years in the making—a seemingly endless stream of hotel rooms, charter planes, handshakes, rubber-chicken fundraising dinners, and convention centers—will suddenly look like a big fat waste of time.
What happens to all the people who spent the last year dedicating their time and money to Mitt’s campaign for the Presidency? Was it a complete waste of time? What did they get for their troubles, and what will they do now?
People like to spend their time and energy on winners
At work, we’re not set up to do continuous improvement the way we’d like to. As a result, we tend to do one or two (or three or four) big tests a year, pitting some new way of doing things against the old champion, calling winners and losers each time. If the new approach defeats the champion, we say our time was well spent. If the champion wins, we’re back to the drawing board. We’ll tell ourselves that we learned something either way, and that even defeat is worthwhile, but inside we feel like we just spent a lot of time on a loser. And nobody likes to spend a lot of time on a loser.
In researching this Don’t Just Like project, we’ve spoken with people who choose to spend time on causes based on a lot of different things, like:
- how strongly they feel about a cause,
- what causes their friends support, and
- whether they know anyone personally affected by something related to the cause.
One of the most interesting things I’ve heard is that people want to support a cause they think has a chance to succeed. This makes sense, of course — if you’re going to invest a lot of time and energy, you want to feel as though you can make a difference — but it’s also kind of scary. What if the good people like Bill McKibben who’ve taken on climate change decided that it was too hard and the chances of winning were too slim to invest their time and energy? Would they have spent their time on something else?
Of course, winning can be a relative term (just ask Charlie Sheen). Depending on who you are, what you represent, and when you’re involved, what once looked like winning may now look like hardly anything at all. Gay rights supporters like me might have considered the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” a win in 2011, but in 2013, winning means nothing less than the right to marry. I’m guessing that Bill McKibben has a different view of winning in 2012 than he did in 2008 too.
If it’s true that people like to be with winners, then it’s critical to every cause that they figure out what winning means to them, and what gives them the best chance at success. Otherwise, good luck getting volunteers, money, or support.
Is winning something we can will to happen?
Which brings us back to Mitt. Regardless of your political leanings, it’s undeniable that Romney lost by an enormous margin. And yet many, many Republican pundits predicted that he’d win in a landslide. Why? Because they’re optimists?
I think it’s more likely that they’re pragmatists, people who understood that believing their man could win was a significant part of the battle — that if they communicated (against all reasonable poll data) that donating time and money and voting for Romney was the winningest choice, it might actually happen. So what now?
When you’re running for President in our current, terribly divided system, winning can only be defined in the most black and white terms: if you don’t win, you’re a loser.
But I don’t buy that. For many months, lots and lots of people — winners and losers alike — spent their time, money, and energy on something they believed in. They cashed in favors, traveled to rallies, and risked offending their in-laws and Facebook friends because they cared.
That, my friends, is winning.