Curious Jordy

Is life a zero-sum game?

I was thinking about the concept of predictability yesterday. Sometimes it is beneficial to be predictable, sometimes not.

First, here’s how I’m defining predictability.

Being predictable means:

  1. planning to do something
  2. communicating what you plan to do honestly, clearly and with plenty of notice
  3. doing it

Being unpredictable means:

  1. planning to do something (or not)
  2. not communicating what you plan to do honestly, clearly, or with plenty of notice
  3. doing it (or not)

I came to the conclusion that for a given activity X, being predictable is beneficial if X is a zero-sum activity. That is to say, if I am involved in activity X with another person (or multiple people) B, and I win, then B must lose.

Here are some examples that I believe are or should be zero-sum:

  • Chess
  • Poker
  • Business
  • War
  • Settlers of Catan, Monopoly, etc.
  • Matters of the head

Here are some examples that I think are or should be non-zero-sum:

  • Friendships
  • Romantic relationships
  • Negotiation
  • War
  • Matters of the heart

The pattern seems to hold for these examples, i.e.:

  • in chess, poker, and business where only one side can win, it is advantageous to obfuscate, to trick, to surprise
  • in friendships, relationships, and negotiation where both sides can win, it is advantageous to be clear and consistent

You’ll notice that war is in both categories. This is deliberate, as I think that war (as outlined by Sun Tzu’s The Art of War) contains both elements. War seems to be zero-sum in that one side must win and one side must lose, but there is the concept of “taking whole” which is seeing the greater reality that everything is interconnected, and winning a greater victory that both sides can share. This is the same spirit as negotiation. There’s essentially two phases to war, then. The first phase involves winning the zero-sum part, using trickery/unpredictability/surprise, and the second phase involving taking whole, reconciliation, and a win that is shared by all parties.

In conclusion, how you view a certain activity can dictate how predictable you should try to be. For example, if you view dating as a zero-sum game (you versus all the single guys or gals) out there, then you should be hard to read, unpredictable, show up fashionably late or not at all, and keep them guessing. And vice versa.

What kind of game are you playing with life?  Does winning at life require others (friends, organizations, the planet) to lose? Or are you looking for the greater win and “taking whole”?  Does the way you live reflect how you view the game of life?

Tags : travel