The Positive Sum (+Σ) Game [FP]

You’ve probably already guessed what the 3rd member of the category is but you also probably don’t believe it could possibly exist.  After all, life is basically unfair, right?  True, possibly when talking of random acts of nature, but here we’re talking about deliberate acts of man.

The Positive Sum Game (+Σ) we will identify as Fundamental Principle 4c:

A “Game” or interaction where the “readily identifiable valuable items,” the stakes or results available (“outcomes”) for all parties actually increase in value during the course of play.

Is this really the more hoped-for-but-rarely-experienced “win-win” scenario, a figment of someone’s imagination?  If we recall that “value” does not always mean “beans” or the equivalent, then this is actually a lot more common than anticipated.  Just consider the following:

  • You and your date or spouse go out and enjoy very nice and reasonably priced dinner.  We’ll assume that you and your date or spouse enjoyed the time together, the ambience of the restaurant, the meal, and the service; the wait-staff enjoyed your tip (and your pleasurable presence); the owner enjoyed the presence of happy customers and the knowledge that a service as well as goods were delivered at a reasonable profit; and the investors enjoyed a good Return on Investment.  All this, of course, is dependent upon all of these “values” (including “reasonably priced”) meeting the expectations of each of the parties involved.
  • You have a job.  Whoopee!  Let’s assume this work entails assembling widgets from components (or some raw materials).  The assembled widget has greater value than the components you started with (look back to the Value Added entry), and your widget is actually itself a component for the next assembly step.  You make a widget and get paid; the widget goes into the next do-hickey (with its resulting added value), and a customer eventually buys the final thingamabob and is happy with its quality and performance, and pays his invoice (hopefully, in fewer than 90 days).  You are (or should be) happy that you’re employed gainfully, that you apply your skills and create something with added value; the company is happy that such good quality widgets are being produced with sufficient added value that it covers costs and expenses plus provides extra capital to invest into research to stay competitive; customers are happy because they believe they have paid a fair value for a product that does well what it is claimed to be able to do and has been made with quality; and investors are happy because as sales go up then the total value of the company goes up and is reflected in the stock price (available to everyone).  This is a veritable “win-win-win-win” situation and should be happening in every business in a free market system.  Unheard of?  No.  Never given credit for what it is?  Almost never.

You should notice immediately that the above two common examples contain a mix of both tangible and intangible “valuable” items.  How does one evaluate this “added value?”  The market does.  Now the next obvious question arises: what if the items of value are all primarily intangible?  Consider these:

  • Credit is infinitely divisible.”  I once worked for a chemical research company that openly practiced this management credo.  All the people who contributed to solving a problem were included in the recognition, and this did not, nor could it diminish the “value” of the credit and recognition each individual received, whether it was tangible or intangible.  This helped “set” the culture.  This concept is also at the heart of the Managing By Walking Around technique.  By making yourself sincerely available in the trenches and listening to employees you accomplish two valuable things: first, you learn something about what is really going on that you might normally not find out, and second, you bestow esteem and respect on employees by considering their input and viewpoints.  This technique is done but not as often as it should be.  And it helps “set” a positive culture.
  • How about an example that is incredibly common: Marriage.  Admit it, when you were preparing for marriage you were anticipating all the positive things that would be added to your life.  “You who were two are now one” and “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  Of course, reality steps (or stepped) in about midway through the honeymoon (or soon thereafter), but I will leave that discussion for a bit later.  All in all, Marriage was designed to be a +Σ “game” (sorry, poor choice of word, but we inherited the terminology from the theoreticians.    Better would clearly be “relationship.”)

When you look at the examples, especially the latter two, you should notice that, rather than looking at the world as “either/or” (and playing one or the other of 0Σ or Σ games as we usually do), these show us viewing and acting on a situation as “and/and(+Σ!).  So, how does one evaluate the “added value” of esteem, respect, motivation, or encouragement here?  Priceless.

This is the life equivalent of Newton’s 3rd Law (Remember? “For every action there is an equal but opposite reaction”), but in life’s Spiritual realm: ‘The more you give away, the more you will receive in return.”  It works pretty regularly with positive intangibles such as love, esteem, respect, honor, credit, recognition, praise, etc., but also with negative ones, such as hate, disrespect, etc.  If Newton’s 3rd Law was the bane of your adolescence in school, the Spiritual equivalent in positive terms should be one of your highest values today.

Yes, you play a valuable role, but it’s not about you.

People are playing “games” every minute of every day, not just diplomats in global negotiations or companies in merger discussions.  Every personal relationship, from parenting and marriage to career and business transactions, every personal interaction has “got game.” Being able to recognize what game is being played, how it affects you, and whether or not you can steer it to a +Σ game, a win-win-win scenario, is a key to success in life and career.

So, can you be playing more than one game at a time?


About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
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