No Teams

Imagine you’re playing a game of basketball. Maybe there’s some money on the line – you’ll get paid some amount if your team wins. So, you try very hard to win. You attempt to have a very cohesive team and you try very hard to work together effectively. Meanwhile, you not only attempt to outplay the other team, you also attempt to disrupt their teamwork as much as possible. Here’s what you don’t do: you don’t try to convince anyone on the other team to switch sides.

Why? Well, because the rules of the game don’t allow it. That would be a silly thing to do. The other team is… the other team, of course.

But now imagine that instead of being told “you’ll win $X if you win, and nothing if you lose,” the conditions were slightly different. Imagine being told “everyone will be paid $X for each point your team scores.” Well, now the money-maximizing thing to do is deal with the other team. To say: “Look, we don’t really care who wins, we just care about maximizing the number of points we both score. We’ll both score way more points if we stop trying to stop the other. Let’s just take turns making free throws for the rest of the game and we’ll all walk away with a ton more money than we would otherwise.”

Life is more like that second version. Very rarely do you gain anything by preventing someone else from gaining something. You gain things by maximizing the productive activities that lead to the gains. And sometimes that means just agreeing to stay out of each others’ ways! In fact, a lot of the time it means that.

In the real world, people can switch teams all the time. They don’t even have to be on a team in the first place. They can just do what they want to get the results they want – and so can you. Don’t get tricked into thinking otherwise.

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