Life is Not a Zero Sum Game
In economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which one party’s gain is another party’s loss. The total of gains and losses adds up to zero, hence the name “zero-sum game”.
Most team sports are zero-sum games. One team wins, the other loses. Politics is also often perceived as a zero-sum game. One party wins, the other loses. Zero-sum games generate opposition and conflict. It is their nature. In sports this is fortunately regulated by umpires who enforce rules.
But is life also set up this way? It seems not. If night would win of day (or vice versa), life as we know it on our planet could not exist.
Let us look then at the non-zero-sum game. This also exists in economic theory and is a game where every participant is rewarded. Most economic situations are actually non-zero-sum games. For example, if one country grows apples and another country tomatoes, they both benefit by trading.
In a zero-sum game polarities tend to polarize. In a non-zero-sum game they tend to harmonize. They can do so because parties will look beyond short term self-interest and look for benefits that are balanced, win-win and serve a greater purpose.
As a management team, how do you get people to follow, how do you approach the market? What game do you believe you are in? If you are in sales, you can try to sell your product without making the effort to really listen to your client, and you might succeed. But the result may be that you win and your client loses.
So ask yourself: what game am I involved in? If just one of the parties involved believes it is a zero-sum game, conflict will ensue. The result is polarization and zero growth.You have a choice: either change the game, leave the game or take the risk of losing. Sometimes you have to choose the latter, but it is better if you do not have to.
If you want to create sustainable and profitable growth for your organization, creating a non-zero-sum game in your market is a good way forward. Instead of focusing on your competition, focus on creating true value for your customers. Apple is a good example of this.
Steve Jobs once said:
“We chose a different path from our competition. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.”
He believed in making a bigger pie and eating it.
If you have a limiting belief that this cannot be done, think twice.
Take Jim Collins (author of "Good to Great") for example:
“I don't know where we should take this company, but I do know that if I start with the right people, ask them the right questions, and engage them in vigorous debate, we will find a way to make this company great.”