Sunday, March 16, 2008

What Game Are You Playing? Snakes and Ladders? Chess?

Our world view predisposes our behavior and reaction. I have lately been thinking about how people use the metaphor of sports and games to describe their behavior in personal and business life - 'I won', 'She lost', 'Not fair', 'Wrong call', etc.

However, we do have one big fundamental choice. And some of exercise it consciously while others grew up and settled on a particular choice without fully realizing it - and its implications on their lives. And that choice is: What game are you playing?

The reason this is so important is because how you behave in the game of life will depend a large part on the game you perceive it to be. Is it a game where winner takes all? Is it a game where there can be multiple winners? Is it a game where you can/should cheat?

I have come up with a basic ontology of games of life.

Snakes and Ladders: Its us against the (unknown) forces of nature and the world at large. If you are a Snakes and Ladders person - there are good events (ladders) that lead to sudden upward moves and bad events (snakes) that lead to severe setbacks. You are a bit paranoid (in your world, snakes exist and bite) and may not feel like you control your own destiny. Examples would include- Britney Spears.

Chess: Its you vs. someone - always. Life is deterministic and if you could make just the right move you can beat the other side. If you visualize life as a chess game, you believe that you can manage your destiny. You may also tend to focus on finding one (or a few) person or entities that you are up against. Examples would include Dick Cheney and Karl Rove.

Scrabble: Everyone can do better and win. Even though you keep score and are competitive, you enjoy the game for what everyone brings to the table. Its okay to challenge your opponent by doing better - not necessarily hoping the other does worse. The beauty of this game is that you are not just competing to be better than others but are trying to outscore your own previous high scores - the objective is to do the best you can. Examples would include most successful venture capitalists - the nature of the business requires you to invest in other people and help them improve and grow.

What game are you playing?

Here are some questions to ask yourself:
  • Do you feel like that others must loose for you to win?
  • Can you identify 3 other people whose success will bring you greater reward/success?
  • Do you play for something - a team, mission? Or do you better when you are up against an enemy?
  • When you have a great day, are there people at work who you can walk over to and share your success with? Would a great day for you mean - they achieved something? Or would it mean - they lost?
Next, figure out if this is the optimal game for you to be playing. Perhaps even try a new game for a week?


Anonymous said...

Good post.

Snakes and Ladders - requires a roll of dice. Its luck! or may be a sleight of hand whichever way you want to interpret.

Real Life - you better know which door to knock on? All office doors look alike. One leads to the dungeon the other to the corner office.

Scrabble - you are picking alphabets from a bag.

Real Life - You better know which projects to pick and who should be in your team. The winning team gets rewarded.

Chess - This requires applying past history and post scheming.

Real Life - you better evaluate and know pre-emptive and post-execution scenarios for every little move you want to make.

I am disappointed that you did not cover any strategy board games.

Maybe the next blog post.

Unknown said...

I would be curious to know which Strategy Board Games you like. I am not a big board games fan - but open to learning.

Thanks for your comment.

Sadiq Shaik said...

Hi Anshu,

Very interesting post! I found it appealing, hence the comment!

My 2 cents: while one maintains a healthy perspective, one needs to keep experimenting with different strategies, as the nature of the game itself is never static. I agree with you, the path becomes clearer when one realizes that there are plenty of prizes and rewards for everyone. I agree that it is important to have a positive outlook, to look for and to create win-win situations, to regularly assess the situation, and to think "outside the box". Yes, it is easier said than done, but we strive towards these goals :)


Check out my blog when you get a chance:

shanmao said...

Anshu, some other games that introduce variations on the above are:

Go - Chess-like, but complete annihilation of the opponent isn't required to win. You need only get 51% of the board to win. Also, multiple segments of the board result in a complex interaction.

Diplomacy - Multi-player, chess-like with negotiation. There are a set of rules determining game play but every turn also has a negotiation period where you discuss in public or private pacts, strategies, schemes, etc.

One type of game that is missing from your ontology that I would like to learn about is the game where the rules are not well-defined, or must be created as the game proceeds, or must be discovered. I think Diplomacy touches on this, since there are no rules regarding any alliances or backstabbing. If only life were as simple as a game of chess, snakes and ladders, or scrabble :)

Unknown said...

I agree with you. In fact, one rule of game of life is: you can pick which games you are playing. Another rule is you can pick who you play with.

What does that mean? You can choose to work in an industry where its natural to collaborate (many creative media roles are of this nature) or an industry where its natural to go for the throat (e.g., high-end enterprise sales with winner takes all).

Similarly, you can pick who you work for and with.

I need to learn more about Go and Diplomacy. May be, even play!

Anonymous said...