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Wednesday, November 23, 2020

Zero-sum Games

Life is not a zero-sum activity, where gain by one person can only come from loss by another. Polticians and many organizational executives think it is. That's because they treat winning an election as a victory over their opponent, not a rational choice between equally honorable alternatives. Corporations seek short-term market share by engineering a corresponding loss by a rival. The resulting spiral of competition usually means everyone loses. Look at the recent war of discounts among car manufacturers, each seeking to "buy" a few points of market share. The result? Tens of thousands of job losses as they try to repair their shattered finances and close over-capacity.

Those people have such narrow minds. In the real world, businesses only grow long-term by creating new markets, not grabbing more of existing ones, which are usually in decline. Success depends on creativity and growth, not competitive rivalry and cheap tricks.

People say the media loves winners. It would be more correct to say they love situations where there must also be losers. No event is complete without a close-up of the despondent loser and idiot questions about how they feel now they've lost. It's as if the joy of winning can only be savored if there's a nasty pleasure added by seeing the loser's misery. Sportsmanship used to honor winners and losers, so long as all played a good game. Now big money — and bigger egos — can only be satisfied when losers are crushed and humiliated. Is it any wonder so many turn to performance-enhancing drugs?

Slow Leaders know this, because they take the time to figure out the longer-term consequences of their actions. Take incentives. Giving someone a reward for personal achievement harms nobody else, so long as similar rewards are available to all who earn them. But sharing a strictly limited budget for salary increases on the basis of bogus measures like performance appraisals or 360-degree reviews automatically creates winners and losers. Since only a few can win, the majority lose, with all the feelings of shame, frustration and alienation that will bring.

Do we never learn? Why does terrorism exist? Because there are enough people who feel almost anything is better than being kept always on the outside, looking in at the lucky few who are winning. That's what provides the foot soldiers evil men exploit for their sick ideologies. Why are so many people under-motivated at work? Because they've been labeled as losers too often.

To be a Slow Leader means thinking through the consequences of actions most people take simply because they're conventional. You want to fill your organization with winners? It's impossible. As soon as you have two or more, someone must be a loser. Organizations exist because work demands cooperation, not to provide an arena for the crazy, competitive urges of a cadre of egotists. Winners and losers cannot cooperate when winning is all that counts. They can only compete until all but one are defeated.

The best things in life — love, companionship, growth, joy and learning — are infinite. Adding to my happiness doesn't require that you should be sad. If you learn something, no one is forced to forget to compensate. Life is not a zero-sum game. That's why any action to increase your gains that requires someone else must lose an equal proportion, is neither ethical nor sensible in the longer view.

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2 Comments:

Martin Harvey said...

Very interesting, I had come to a similar conclusion in the context of relationships:

Life is not a zero sum game.

This is really the crux of the issue: nice people in life give of their time, effort, and honest emotion willingly, because they have discovered that life is not a zero sum game. That is, it's not like there's a fixed amount of happiness around, and you have to grab it before anyone else does. Instead, they instinctively or intuitively understand that if you give someone happiness, they will return the favour, and that if you show honest caring or love, then they will be repaid tenfold.

There is an absolute guaranteed litmus test to distinguish one from the other: Find someone, and give them an unexpected and undeserved gift. For example, I did this the other day. Do they accept the gift or do they not? Those steeped in the negative psychology way of thinking will refuse your gift, because they then feel that "they owe you something." However, those that are secure in themselves and their abilities will be more than happy to accept your gift, because they have faith that their lives are sufficiently rich as to repay you in some way. It's all just the difference between give and take.

12:42 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Great comment. Martin.

Thank you.

3:12 PM  

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