The Zero Sum Game

July 15, 2011

Lately, I’ve been a part of several conversations that have let me to ask a question that keeps coming up again and again. Is life a zero sum game?

Unless you’ve been under a rock or offline completely for the last couple of weeks, you’ve no doubt heard (perhaps ad nauseum) about the emergence of Google+. Article after article. Blog post after blog post. Google+ post after Google+ post. Tweet after Tweet. Facebook post after Facebook post. It’s all the same – can Google take on Facebook?

Why are we so obsessed with this? Can’t they both exist simultaneously and let people choose how they participate, or not?

ZeroSide note: just imagine what we could do with the energy that has been put into this discussion from so many people around the world if we were able to redirect it to something more meaningful. What global problems could we address and perhaps solve?

In business, if one of your ‘competitors’ comes out with a product or service, does that mean that they are by definition taking opportunities that might be available to you or your company?

If you refer business to someone else, do you need to take a cut of it, or can you just make the connections when they are right and let productive relationships develop without you directly receiving something from the transaction?

If someone writes something truly remarkable, does that mean that other writers who might have similar thoughts are going to lose out if they didn’t get there first?

Is life really a zero sum game?

On the other hand, can we each create and produce our very best work while connecting with the people and clients that are right for us without having to take something from someone else?

What do you think of this idea of the zero sum game?


  • Reply Lisa Robbin Young July 15, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    When people collaborate well, the outcome is generally greater than the parts of the whole – it’s Napoleon Hill’s mastermind theory evidenced in real life.
    But when fear grips (usually caused by the “unknown, what will tomorrow bring?” factor), it’s every man for themselves.

    I’ve witnessed and experienced the power of collaboration – and the wonder that unfolds when it’s not about the money, but instead about doing the best possible thing. I’ve also seen the other side of the coin: the punitive, take-what’s-mine attitude that prevails in pockets of society where fear rules.

    I’ve also seen the need for individualism – so that ideas don’t become too homogenized and bland.

    In this instance there are different needs being met by different social sites. Facebook has been known to pick up elements from other competing sites, so why should Google be any different? 

    Ultimately, though, Darwin’s theory prevails. Well, except that he who has the best marketing usually survives (fittest or not).

    • Reply Brandon Sutton July 15, 2011 at 6:21 pm

      Thanks, Lisa.  I like how you showed multiple perspectives here, and love the collaboration piece.  This is exactly the kind of conversation I was hoping for. 

      I think fear is the root of many (if not most) of these situations, and most of it is due to conditioning. With the ‘take what’s mine’ dynamic, we have a choice whether or not we engage in that type of competition.

      My idealism is on full display here, clearly, but I would rather redirect my energy into an area that I feel better about the work I’m doing and not trying to cut someone else off at the pass. 

      Your point about marketing is well put. Interestingly, it’s not always budget that sets apart the ‘fittest,’ but instead it’s those who are the most relevant, creative, authentic, etc.

      Great stuff, Lisa!

  • Reply Lori Finnigan July 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Brandon I sure hope not ( of course assuming I understand the true meaning of “zero sum”).  Otherwise, why wash the dishes, do the laundry, take a shower, And isn’t “zero sum game” really about one person losing so the other can gain? 

    Anyway, I don’t think we’re put on this earth to serve only ourselves. What a lonely small life that would be.

    Lori F

    • Reply Brandon Sutton July 15, 2011 at 6:26 pm

      Lonely indeed, and I think ultimately unfulfilling.  I’ve come to believe that ‘winning’ is contagious.

      Thanks for sharing!

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