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It's a 'no-brainer' when it comes to 'win-win' situations

By William Hennelly in New York | | Updated: 2018-04-13 04:24
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One thing that's always amused me is China's embrace of the Americanism "win-win".

It frequently pops up in business, educational, diplomatic and governmental exchanges, and rarely a week goes by that it's not in a China Daily story.

In light of the current tariff tiff, it's time to take a look at the origin of the phrase and why the Chinese may have adopted it as a calling card.

The expression (at least according to my internet searches) comes from a 1989 bestselling book: The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, which has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide.

The book's author, Stephen Richards Covey, a Salt Lake City, Utah native, was also an educator, businessman and keynote speaker. He was a professor at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University when he died at age 79 in July 2012 of complications stemming from a bicycling accident two months prior.

(Coincidentally, or maybe not, the son of the man for whom the business school was named, Jon Jr, served as US ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011.)

In the book, Covey's habit No. 4 is "Think Win-Win". (It also can be found on

"Think Win-Win isn't about being nice, nor is it a quick-fix technique. It is a character-based code for human interaction and collaboration.

"Most of us learn to base our self-worth on comparisons and competition. We think about succeeding in terms of someone else failing — that is, if I win, you lose; or if you win, I lose.

"Life becomes a zero-sum game. There is only so much pie to go around, and if you get a big piece, there is less for me; it's not fair, and I'm going to make sure you don't get anymore. We all play the game, but how much fun is it really?"

Covey wrote that a person or organization that approaches conflicts with a win-win attitude possesses three vital character traits: 1. integrity: sticking to your true feelings, values and commitments; 2. maturity: expressing ideas and feelings with courage and consideration for that of others; 3. abundance mentality: believing there is enough for everyone.

"Many people think in terms of either/or: either you're nice or you're tough. Win-win requires that you be both. It is a balancing act between courage and consideration.

"To go for win-win, you not only have to be empathic, but you also have to be confident. You not only have to be considerate and sensitive, you also have to be brave."

It's obvious that China sees a lot of itself in Covey's win-win approach to the world.

Still, maybe it's time China trotted out a new Americanism, perhaps a "no-brainer"?

Basically, it's saying that you don't even have to think about something twice to, uh, win-win.

No-brainer first surfaced (supposedly) in December 1959 when it appeared in The Berrys cartoon by Carl Grubert in the Long Beach Independent newspaper in California. (A descendant of that paper is the current Long Beach Press-Telegram.)

Usage example: It's a no-brainer that both sides will be relieved when the trade dispute is resolved.

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