Paid to Think: The Big Benefits of Winning by a Nose

First in a series

By David Goldsmith with Lorrie Goldsmith

Many decision makers put a lot of pressure on themselves to come up with the next killer idea, believing that they have to wow customers, prospective employees, or other stakeholders in order to win sales, key talent, or other advantages for their organizations.

But you don’t always have to reel in the “big fish” to enjoy great rewards. In fact, more often than people realize, great rewards don’t necessarily come from earth-shattering factors. Instead, they are oftentimes the result of minor factors that cause us to win or lose “by a nose.”

In case you are not familiar with the terminology of winning or losing by a nose, let me explain its origin.

Humans can lose by a nose, too

Have you ever seen a horse race in which one horse won by the narrow margin of inching his nose over the finish line before the second-place horse? This horse achieves a win by a nose (WBAN) — and his stakeholders go home with a huge pile of cash — while horse number two loses out on the big win by a nose.

Organizations can win and lose by a nose, too. And whether it’s losing by a nose or by a long shot, you’ve still lost the prize.

When you go out on a sales call and you lose by a nose, you lose the whole sale as well as everything you invested in pursuing it. These by-a-nose defeats can pack a major punch to your organization or career.

Take for instance Common Councilor Michael Heagerty of Syracuse, New York. He needed 335 valid signatures on his petition to run for re-election on the Democratic Party line, a generally routine task for any incumbent. He was mortified to find that he ended up one signature short … and that he forgot to sign his own petition. The spot on ballots where Heagerty’s name was supposed to appear remained blank for the election.

WBANs are powerful, whether you’re talking signatures or votes in politics, artillery strikes in military battles, sales in businesses, public perception or funding in nonprofits, or countless other circumstances related to every other type of organization. They are, in fact, so powerful that they can mean the difference between life and death for people, careers, organizations, movements, cultures, and countries.

In your organization, you need to look at all areas and all factors that could potentially make or break a success. Also remember these two principles:

1. A micro adjustment can determine a by-a-nose win or loss

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), founded by native South African Elon Musk, who also founded PayPal and Tesla Motors, exists for “space exploration and the extension of life to multiple planets,” putting satellites in space at a fraction of competitors’ costs.

Its first two $6-million rockets failed on launch, and the third suffered a loss-by-a-nose at an altitude of 217km when a single line of code did not allow enough time for “commanding main engine shut down and stage separation.” In other words, the fate of a multi-million-dollar project rested on a single line of code within a rocket’s millions of lines of code, a simple loss by a nose.

A by-the-nose win or loss can dramatically change your outcomes.

Russell, a manager from Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals, was responsible for a team of eight sales executives covering the eastern part of the United States. On the West Coast, another Bayer sales manager headed a team of nine. Russell told me how each year Bayer gives a bonus to the team that best meets or exceeds budgeted revenue goals.

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One year, Russell’s East Coast team was excited about coming in at 108.3 percent of a budget running in the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues. Then, the numbers came in from the West Coast. At 108.7 percent of budget, the West Coast team had eked out a win by a mere 0.4 percent. The narrow loss robbed each member of Russell’s high-achieving group of a $25,000 bonus: a big hit for a job with an annual average salary of about $80,000.

2. Consider if you could land a few more of your lost wins

Consider if you had just one more sale per day in a retail shop, one more home sold per month in real estate, 1 percent more of your customers saying “Yes!” These small improvements can snowball into huge results.

Take, for example, a bid by your organization on 100 jobs a year. If your staff wins half of them, you might be able to accept 25 of the lost bids as bad matches for your firm — too small or big, unrealistic delivery dates, not profitable enough, etc. — but what about the other 25 losses?

Perhaps you lost them by a nose: a botched detail perhaps, or a deadline missed by an hour. In one true incident, a client of mine named Rich said he lost a sale because a competitor put the prospective buyer’s logo on a proposal, and Rich didn’t. Imagine getting the phone call saying that the only advantage your competitor had over you was that his placement of a logo showed that he “cared more.”

Do the math. If you had won just 10 percent more of the contracts you had lost, what would your world be like today? Remember you’ve already done all the traveling, mock-ups, research, and proposal work.

If you’re going to invest the time, energy, and money into an endeavor, you might as well walk away a winner, even if the win is only by a nose, because micro wins can result in huge changes. One client mentioned that if he won 10 percent more of his contracts, he would not have enough project managers to handle capacity nor would he be able to manage the cash flow of his $3 billion organization.

Here’s another example: Suppose you put measures in place to make it possible for your production department to ship just 20 percent of goods a single day sooner than you do now, and the time compression grew your bottom line by 4 percent. With that success, you might now be in a position to fund a project that could grow the bottom line by an additional 20 percent next year.

The big-picture solution is to continually rethink current beliefs to bring new opportunities for growth and rewards into view.

Excerpted with permission from Paid to THINK: A Leaders Toolkit for Redefining Your Future, by David Goldsmith with Lorrie Goldsmith. Copyright (c) 2012, BenBella Books,

David Goldsmith is a consultant, advisor, speaker, telecast host and author. He is the President of the New York-based Goldsmith Organization , holds an MBA from Syracuse University, and served on the faculty of New York University for 12 years. Lorrie Goldsmith is co-founder of the Goldsmith Organization. You can download all the graphics associated with their book "Paid to THINK" for your organization for no charge at, and they can be reached at and


1 Comment on “Paid to Think: The Big Benefits of Winning by a Nose

  1. Widely applicable insights – thank you David and Lorrie + I have gotten a great response when sharing your idea-packed books at the last four conferences at which I spoke… kudos!

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