Choose Your Games Wisely

I’ve always disliked The 48 Laws of Power, but not because it’s a bad book.

It describes concepts that both reflect reality and are useful in many contexts. It’s hard to the deny that the book is insightful, and probably worth reading.

What I find so distasteful is that it propagates a set of principles optimized for zero-sum environments.

Ideas like “never outshine the master” and “mask your intentions” are relevant in political and corporate environments where emergent power hierarchies and manipulation are inevitable.

And in these environments, it’s definitely in your best interest to operate under these principles - if you don’t, you’ll probably lose out to someone who does.

Because of this, I would never opt into participating in these environments.

Of course, some degree of politics is inevitable in any environment, but I don’t want to actively choose to play in an environment where the primary game is so zero-sum.

This feeling implies a broader principle, which I’ve personally adopted - don’t enter environments where you’ll have to play games you don’t want to play.

Or framed slightly differently - before you enter a new environment, think about the games you’ll have to play to win there, and decide if they’re games you want to play.

For me, this highlighted one of the biggest advantages of building startups - the games you play are extremely meritocratic and positive-sum.

The market decides if you’ve created something it wants, and will reward you for doing so.

There are plenty of opportunities to create new value, and then capture some of the value you create.

Of course, operating in the startup space comes with tradeoffs (like high risk and high uncertainty) that aren’t for everyone.

But regardless of what environment you choose to play in - remember that every space has it’s games - an important part of maturing and understanding what you want to do is understanding how these games work and deciding if you want to play them.