Zero Sum Game (EP.15)

Zero Sum Game

Let’s start with a definition of Zero Sum Game. Overall, this means that if you are going to win, someone else must lose. Like in sports or gambling. If you or your team are going to win, for example, a basketball game, the other person or team must lose. You go +1, they go -1; the sum of the two is zero. Same with gambling: if you are going to win $100, someone else needs to lose $100. Again, a zero sum game.

Unlike sports or poker, life is not a Zero Sum Game. It is a win-win or no deal. Imagine trying to win in a relationship by “beating” the other person. In the business world, can you win by beating a “good deal” out of your suppliers or employees? Of course not. And unlike poker, where the total amount of money on the table does not grow–it simply changes hands–in business the whole pot can grow. That is one of the reasons that more than one person can win at the same time. In life, it is not -1 and -1 equalling zero; it is 1 + 1 = 3–or more. Much more.

The lessons we can learn from the world of zero sum games are important, and carry over into the world of win-win. Learning how to win, how to work hard and commit to a goal over time, will help to create a successful life. And you can’t learn how to win if there is no such thing as losing. Without experiencing the sting of losing, no one will make the sacrifices necessary to earn the joy of winning.

It is dead wrong to claim that in order to win, someone else must lose. BTW, if someone else does lose, that is not a guarantee that you will win. Taking a zero sum game approach to life might cause both of you to lose. Remember: It is a win-win or no deal.

Will Luden, writing from my home office at 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.

Will Luden
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19 Responses

  1. Doug Hainline Reply

    In general, and in the long sweep of history, you are correct. We — humanity — have discovered that we benefit more by co operating with ‘the other’, than by killing him and taking his stuff.

    This has been set out very well in a book by Robert Wright called ‘Non-Zero: the Logic of Human Destiny’. [ Get a used copy for only a couple of bucks, here: ]
    And on the other hand, the necessary division of our species into separate states, has meant non-cooperation — including war — is always a possibility, as described by John Mearsheimer in ‘The Tragedy of Great-Power Politics’ [Balance the previous book, if you’re buying books, with his, here: ]

    So we go forward …. gingerly.

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