“You are not competitive for your age, you are petty for your age”
Years ago I was sitting in my office when a client walked in and started complaining that there weren’t any good races to enter and it was driving him nuts because he is, in his words, “so competitive, especially for my age”. This seemed strange to me because in Vero Beach, Florida there are multiple races a week, which I pointed out to him.
After some back and forth, it turns out that he was looking for a very specific kind of race: one that he was certain he would win.
Each day he would peruse the local paper in search of a race that had an age bracket he qualified for and a confirmed participant he knew he would beat. He had no interest in the open age bracket due to the low probability of him beating all the young-gun runners, and he knew the few runners his age that would likely beat him so he avoided any races he knew they were entering.
“Competitive?” I asked. We stared at each other for what felt like at least a full minute. So I continued: “Andy, you want the truth?
“You’re not seeking competition, you’re seeking trophies. You are not competitive at your age, you are being petty at your age”.
I'm aware this will trigger some people, and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but hear me out. This is the way that I see it:
A competitive human seeks competition to improve themself. Winning is not the goal, it's evidence of improvement if you are leveling up your competition consistently. The focus of a truly competitive person is on the rolling average, over time. Is the competition getting better? Am I playing at a higher level than I was last year? The true competitor plays an infinite game. The strategy is to become better than they used to be.
The petty mind seeks to win as frequently as possible to validate its status as a winner. They will level down before they level up in order to win. The petty mind is binary' they either win or they lose, leaving little room to measure meaningful progress. Petty minds play finite games. The strategy is to prove that you're better than other people.
Has defined rules and defined start, stop and reset points. The winner is determined by the predefined rules of the game. In a finite game, players learn the rules of the game so they can engineer wins. It’s binary.
Finite game players typically have a lot of trophies on their shelves, and even though they have copious amounts of proof of their winningness, they tend to keep losing at the things that matter.
Does not have a defined start and stop. There is no reset point. There are no winners, just different roles to play in the game. Infinite game players know the rules of the game, but they are focused on getting what they want, not racking up arbitrary wins.
Infinite game players often have fewer trophies, but the ones they do have are the ones that matter the most to them.
A runner looking to become the best runner they can possibly be is a true competitor seeking to play an infinite game. If they win a local race they will seek greater competition; a bigger pond to challenge them. They will continue to improve for the entirety of their life.
Runners hand-picking races they know they can win so that they can win and avoiding stiff competition are petty; they are seeking and playing a finite game to rack up trophies to feel productive.
Your dopamine-addicted monkey mind will often blur these lines.
It will convince you to forfeit the infinite game for all the dopamine that comes with “winning” or stacking up rewards. Once you become a “winner” by these arbitrary metrics, your monkey mind will actively seek activities and pursuits to validate that you’re a winner. Level up and finish middle of the pack or level down and enter a race you know you will win? The process-driven competitor thinks: moving up or moving down? And levels up. The binary monkey mind thinks: medal or no medal? and chooses the shiny object.
Your monkey mind has chosen for you to play down for the win.
And you’ll have no idea that you are even doing it. The monkey mind will hide as many of its shenanigans from you as you allow it to.
You’ll teach your kids how to win. You’ll set up competitions for your teammates and employees to encourage that competitive spirit and help everyone win.
Not so fast, monkey mind.
We do not allow that kind of cognitive laziness around these parts.
Before we move on, remember the following:
Game is infinite
The strategy is to get better over time
Focus on rolling average over time
Game is finite
The strategy is to prove worth
The focus is on binary win/loss
Has defined start, stop and reset
Can be rigged
Can be won or lost
The strategy is to rack up wins
Start and stop undefined. No reset button.
Cannot be rigged to win
Can continue to be played
The strategy is to be happy
Let’s introduce our new friends, Bary and Dingle
Bary and Dingle aren’t necessarily friends, but they both work in the sales department of a tech company and spend a lot of time together at the office.
Their boss, who had his cognitive horsepower hijacked by his monkey mind many years ago, was told that the company was operating at a loss and needed to get into profit by the end of the year. He was also informed that only one of the two salespeople would be able to keep their job next year.
So he came up with a brilliant plan and then revealed it to them the next day:
“We need to have the best year we’ve ever had and you two are fighting for your jobs. Here is how it’s going to work:
For the next 12 months, your sales target is an ambitious 100 sales per month. If you reach your target it’s a successful month. If not, it’s a failure. Whoever has the most successful months by the end of the year keeps their job and grows with us into the future”
Bary and Dingle, believing that this is a great motivator for them both, go out for drinks that night and tell their friend Maggy (who they both have a crush on). She thinks it’s a great idea. What Dingle and Bary don’t know is that she has been trying to figure out which one will be more successful so she can decide who to date.
WHOA. A curveball from Maggy.
So she comes up with a side competition.
“How about a side competition?” she asks. “Same setup as your work competition, but just for a month: 100 pushups a day get a gold star on a star chart. Whoever gets the most gold stars over the next 30 days gets to take me on a date”
This should work out well for the boss, Maggy, and at least one of the boys, right?
HOLD ON MONKEY MIND.
These are finite games and they might end up doing the opposite of what is intended.
It's possible, with this setup, that the best performers will be seen as losers, the worst performers will be crowned winners and nobody will have any idea that it has even happened.
Don’t believe me?
Let's play it out:
(read before you watch)
After 30 days it looks like this:
Bary is already crushing Dingle. Bary got 100 sales or more in January and Dingle did not. That's a success for Bary and a failure for Dingle.
We can also see that Bary ended up with the girl thanks to his 20 gold stars to Dingles 3. More on that shortly.
Let's fast forward another 11 months:
Looks like Bary ended up with the job, too. Bary's 91.67% success rate is great given the ambitious nature of the goal. Dingle's 0% rate makes him the clear-cut loser.
There are a few things that your monkey mind can learn from this:
The employers clearly got the higher performing employee/salesperson in keeping Bary and firing Dingle.
Maggie ended up with the boy that is that demonstrated the highest capacity for success in the given time period
Bary is a winner and Dingle is a loser. Assigning respect to and modeling Bary would be a better move than assigning respect to and modeling Dingle.
The company is still operational, Maggie and Bary are still dating, and everyone feels great about their decisions (except Dingle) and the setup. They've learned a lot and it worked out as well as it could have.
....No. NO. NO! STOP. IT. MONKEY. MIND.
The monkey mind is already drawing the conclusions above, making sense of what seems to be obvious. Bary is better than Dingle, the margin is undeniable. Open and shut case.
It depends. (The two words no monkey mind ever wants to hear. It demands absolutes and certainties at all times.)
"But the data is clear! Why would you look any deeper, Nic!?"
Well, monkey mind, because both business and relationships are infinite games. What really matters is the rolling average/trend(there is no reset button for your bank account). These "competitions" were set up as finite games and the binary nature makes me nervous about what's actually going on here.
The winners of the short (finite) games aren't necessarily the winners of the long (infinite) game. Maybe I'm paranoid.
Let's look, just in case.
Here is what it looks like if we dig just a tiny bit deeper:
The data confirms that given the initial (binary) rules of the competition, Bary is, indeed, the winner. And by a landslide.
Most months with 100 sales: Bary (11 to 0)
It also shows some things that might, just maybe, be interesting and/or relevant to all parties involved:
Most sales (new customers) for the year: Dingle (1139 to 1101)
Most revenue from sales: Dingle ($2,619,700 to $2,532,300)
The data tells us that the guy that was "very clearly, obviously unequivocally the underperformer of the two" sold 38 more units and generated $87,400 more over the year.
If the company is in the game of growing revenues or new customers, they've made a mistake in naming Bary the winner. It's possible, of course, that they don't care about revenue.
But just in case they do, we can look at it his way:
See the red line? That's the loser that got canned.
Here's what it looks like extrapolated over 5 years:
The data tells us that Dingle's "0% success rate" would have brought in almost a half million dollars more over 5 years than the "clear winner" if they both repeated their performance 4 more consecutive times.
And just in case the company cares about new customers here's what it would look like if Bary and Dingle repeated their performance for four more consecutive years:
Yes again, you can see our loser in red.
This kind of pettiness disguised as a "competitive" spirit is costing the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in the sales department alone. I would be afraid to look anywhere else.
This stuff compounds.
What Have We Learned?
This Is Where The Monkey Mind Is Dangerous
If we don't look deeper (like we did above) we often make the mistake of thinking we have learned something useful from this competition. The boss and the company think they have learned who the better salesperson is. Bary believes he has learned that he is a better salesperson than Dingle, validating his strategy as being superior. Poor Dingle, the most competent of them all, is drowning in brain sludge, believing he is the loser and questioning his strategy.
Everyone thinks they have learned something about reality, but all they have done is reposition, everyone, including themselves, incorrectly. Their view of the world is now less accurate than it was before.* In other words, future reality will stray further from their expectations of the future.
*before, they were uncertain, which is why they did the competition in the first place. Now they are certain of the wrong thing.
What About Maggy?
Well, Maggy also believes she got herself the winner of the two. Again, the winner was pretty clear-cut. Bary believes he is in better shape and does more work than Dingle. Dingle doubts himself and continues to drown in brain sludge.
All is right in the world, Bary has a brighter future than Dingle, and the data proves it:
Fuck it, monkey mind. We're digging deeper.
Step 1 Get More Data:
Step 2 Silence The Monkey Mind by removing the binary (red/green or win/loss):**
Dingle did more total pushups than Bary over the 30 days, averaging 82 a day. That's 16 more a day than Bary's 66-a-day average.
** Also, did you notice how just removing the colors of 'winning' and 'losing' changed the way you saw the data? Your monkey mind is very emotional about and frequently tricked by colors.
In case you wanted to know what 82 pushups a day compared to 66 a day looks like over 5 years:
Once again, we see Dingle in red, being a total loser.
In both scenarios, there was a clear-cut winner: Bary. In both scenarios, the monkey mind was hijacked by a binary win/loss structure. In both scenarios, the worse performer was named the winner. And, most insidiously, the most competent person (Dingle) is left with the least amount of confidence and the less competent parties have gained confidence.
What to make of all of this?
Whatever you want. But here are some things to ponder:
Dingle has been considered a loser (and by a long shot) by all of the predetermined metrics in the games above. Even though he outperformed his competition in all the things that actually matter. If Dingle doesn't have the tools to keep his eye on the infinite game or lets his brain gets hijacked by his monkey mind, it's highly probable that he doubts his own competence and starts to assign respect or credibility to Bary, even though Bary is less competent than Dingle.
This is why we must understand the Outcome Bias and Brain Sludge
Dingle's boss and Maggy both set up finite games, failing to understand the infinite nature of what they were trying to solve. Due to their cognitive laziness, they didn't think to look deeper, made sense of it quickly, and mistakenly believed that they had learned something. In reality, they've created a convenient narrative and will continue to operate thinking it's information about reality. They are likely to continue setting up competitions and picking "winners" that are actually "losers". Just like the corporate competition, everyone has learned exactly the wrong thing.
Winning their way to failure.
Bary is considered a winner and will continue to find games he can win. His monkey mind will continue to look for binary situations, things that are "win or lose", "green or "red". This robs Bary of the opportunity to improve incrementally. "You're either first or your last" means there is no appreciation or feedback loop/learning for anything in between. "100 sales or it's a failure" every day eliminates the ability to track a rolling average effectively. This mindset robbed everyone of the opportunity to recognize Dingle was actually outperforming Barry.
It's important to be very clear on what you are trying to accomplish, especially when setting up competitions for yourself or others. A petty monkey mind holds us back by convincing us that it's being "competitive" all the time: Let me give you one more example of this:
Dingle vs Dingle And "Winning" Your Way To Losing
Dingle is drowning in brain sludge. He never reads this article and never learns how to amalgamate data. So he thinks to himself: "Bary is a winner. I am going to be more like Bary. In fact, I'm just going to copy his pushup schedule!"
Much to his own surprise, he is successful:
Dingle's first month was considered a failure, as we saw above. But since he is able to copy Bary's "winning" schedule the next month he can finally say to himself:
"NOW IM A WINNER!"
And once again, the monkey mind has learned the exact opposite of reality.
If you remember the charts from above, Bary did fewer pushups on average per day and, therefore, less total for the month.
Dingle just took a step sizeable backward and, fooled by his monkey brain, believes he has taken a step forward.
Because of the way it is set up, framed, and measured, Dingle's monkey brain tells him that he went from 3 wins to 20 wins. From a 10% success rate to a 66.67% success rate. Dingle and his monkey brain celebrate...
... Completely unaware that he is worse off for it.***
*** He went from an average of 82 pushups a day to 66 a day or 2,425 in month 1 to 2,000 in month 2. What he considers positive progress is actually a sizeable regression; a behavior that is being reinforced by the feeling of victory.
Worse still; as Dingle continues to mistake regression for progress, results/reality will fail to improve or meet his expectations and he will have no idea why and feel powerless over the outcome.
Stack up the wins. Fall further behind in life.
This is the monkey mind at work.
When threatened, the monkey mind will hijack the wheel without you being aware of it happening. It will proceed to find binary games to win, each one making the infinite game harder. Eventually, the monkey mind is so intimidated by the infinite game, it loses interest altogether and chases as many (often meaningless) wins as possible to make up for it
Dingle, Bary, and their boss all have a strong desire to win things. Perhaps they all started out as truly ambitious young men. But over the years, and countless competitions set up as finite games, the monkey mind has become intimidated by and unwilling to play the long term. It doesn't even think to process the data relevant to the long game any more.
The monkey mind never informed Dingle, Bary or anyone else involved what was happening. It never sent out a notice saying "hey guys, so, we are avoiding hard things and being cognitively lazy now" or "we aren't going to think deeply about what games are worth playing and what matters most, we're just gonna look for stuff we can win and accept the outcome as evidence of something important".
There was no warning. Dingle's monkey mind turned his competitiveness into pettiness. Pettiness that Dingle still believes to be competitiveness. He remains unaware that the wins he chases today are slowly getting him further away from the things that matter.
Fuckin' monkey mind.
Here's What To Do Next:
Imagine that you are staring out your bathroom window, seeing all of this in the distance. Better yet, read this again as if you are watching Dingle through the window as it all plays out. Recognize how silly it is for him to let his monkey mind hijack the wheel and how ridiculous this seems from afar.
Imagine him and his friends truly believing they are being competitive and making progress when they are clearly (from the outside) being petty and regressing.
And then chuckle at the fact that all the systems they have set up for themselves actually encourage and compound this nonsense.
Keep imagining this whole scenario playing out, right outside your window until you get to this very point where I ask you to consider, just for a moment...
.....that your window might just be a mirror.
I could be wrong.
But maybe...just maybe...
Maybe it's worth looking a little deeper.