Zero sum games brings out the worst in people and how to avoid it

In this blog post, we'll cover the dark side of most jobs and how to avoid them.

I've always been fascinated with territorial and straight-out destructive behavior I've seen throughout my work life. It keeps re-appearing almost everywhere I go. Maybe the most surprising experience I've had in connection to this was in show business.

When you start as a happy amateur, it's all about the creative pursuit, the beauty of the art, and something that means more than the earthly - with a free-spirited and open-minded approach where everyone are friends.

But at some point in a creative career this flips and suddenly I hear people speak behind each other's backs, complaints about their performances (but never to their face), and anger about when a performer secures a deal.

person playing chess

Why is the same individual so nice around amateurs, and so negative around professionals?

I finally came to understand why when listening to Naval Ravikant's episode on zero-sum games.

The issue with show business is exactly that - it's an eat-or-be-eaten competitive landscape. There are only a limited amount of spots to be an actor, dancer, or musician. Every job that goes to someone else is you not getting a job (roughly speaking). It's almost impossible for actors with similar characteristics to be friends since they compete head-to-head for every job.

The negative behavior observed is caused by the environment. It is true in show business, it is true in politics, and it is true inside of 99% or corporations.

blue and white exit signage mounted on brown brick wall

There is only one way out - leave the zero-sum games and get into non-zero-sum games.

The most obvious situations are cases where you are directly involved with sales. If you can agree with the customer, you get paid and the customer gets delighted - a win-win. As long as there are people to help with what you are selling there are win-wins to be had.

Yes, you might compete with others, but almost always you can decide on a slightly different sales angle, customer base, and brand.

- If you are an actor, create your own shows. Don't rely fully on other people hiring you.
- If you are in a corporate environment, start finding clients to serve outside of business hours.

man in blue shirt and black cap holding black camera

Running your own projects is not for everyone.

But if you don't you will almost always have to play in the zero-sum game, with all the negativity that comes with it.

Have you noticed zero-sum games in your life? Have you been able to escape them? Please share your stories - I'd love to hear your perspective!

If you want to take the first steps to enter the non-zero-sum game, come join the - a support community for people with aspirations that want to grow together with others.

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