In most games who wins and who loses is the whole point of playing. It would be hard to imagine a more unpopular outcome in a reality TV-series, than an announcement that all the players ended up as winners! It is, of course, beneficial that better-motivated and more enterprising players take the place of the lazy, the incompetent, and the unmotivated.
But zero-sum thinking and the winner-takes-all philosophy does not serve us any more. As there are more losers than winners in our games losers multiply as winning behaviours are replicated in the smaller winners’ circles and losing behaviours are replicated in the bigger losers’ circles.
The biggest problem is that as losers are excluded from the game, they are not allowed to learn. The divide between winners and losers grows constantly. This is why, in the end, the winners have to pay the price of winning in one-way or another. The bigger the divide is, the bigger the price that has to be paid. The winners end up having to take care of the losers, or two totally different cultures are starting to form, as is happening today in many developed countries and cities.
Psychologically, competitive games create shadow games of losers competing at losing.
The games we play have been played under the assumption that the unit of survival is the individual, a team of people or a company. However, the reality is that the unit of survival is the players in the game being played. Following Darwinian rhetoric, the unit of survival is the species in its environment. Who wins and who loses is of minor importance compared to the decay of the (game) environment as a result of the competition.
We need a new concept of games in the creative economy. The players and their contributions in the real world are, and should be, too qualitatively different to compare quantitatively. Unless all the players are comparable and want the very same thing, there cannot be a genuine contest.
Zero-sum games were the offspring of scarcity. In the era of creativity and abundance, new approaches are desperately needed.
As there absolutely cannot be pre-existing rules for every conceivable situation that might arise, we have to move beyond seeing the players and the rule-makers as separate parties. The real life games are too complex to be governed totally from outside. We need values- and strong ethics-based participation as a prerequisite for taking part.
The players have the responsibility not only for adhering to the existing rules, but also for developing the rules further – specifically when the game (environment) decays as a result of the actions of the players.
In creative games the winners would be all those whose participation, comments and contributions were incorporated in the development of the game.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR >
Esko Kilpi is founder and principal in Esko Kilpi Oy, a leading research and consultancy firm working with the challenges of knowledge work and digital work environments. The organization is based in Helsinki, Finland. In addition to his work as an executive adviser Kilpi takes part in academic research and lectures on the topics of organizational learning, knowledge based view of the firm and interaction technologies as key enablers for knowledge based value creation in Nordic countries, Europe, Middle-East, Far-East and USA. He has published various articles on these subjects and is the co-author of a book on teams and process management (1996) and books on management challenges of the information age (2001, 2006). His teaching and research interests are about organizational contexts, where creative learning takes place and organizational dynamics for emergence of coherence and novelty. A large part of his work has concentrated on principles of organizational viability based on what can be learned from complexity sciences and theories of complex adaptive systems. At the moment Kilpi’s work has focused on open source principles and social software implementations in organizational contexts. Kilpi has been a member of the advisory board of the World Bank on Knowledge Management. He has also been a member of the expert think tank on Knowledge Management for the European Union.