The Spirit of the Game

In his podcast, Akimbo, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

The spirit of the game is the idea that we are taking a long-term view for what it means to engage in a sport or a game. The idea of our modern world is that we are supposed to win right now, and that selfish behavior is the best behavior. That short-term view is the exact opposite to the spirit-of-the-game thinking.

We often get confused about self-interest and selfishness. When we measure more than what happens right now and how much does it costs, the story we tell ourselves may mean that our self-interest compels us to do things that look altruistic. When we act in the spirit of the game, we get to be part of a culture. Being part of culture means sacrificing short-term monetary benefit in exchange for better things in the long-term.

Today’s unrestrained corporatism exhibits a great deal of selfishness. Monopoly is the idea that, once someone controls most of the board, the life for the rest of the people gets more difficult. The person who has a monopoly in the short run will be able to extract all sorts of unfair rents, and other people will have little choice but to live with that.

It is easy to be glib about corporate selfishness and how government screws up everything. History has many examples where once someone in an environment amasses a little power, they can use that power to amass more power if they do not care about the culture or the long-term implications. So, in the spirit of the game, we must decide what the game is. We, the players in the game, must decide what we are going to do when someone doesn’t honor a deal. We also need to decide what we are going to do when monopolies start ignoring the effects of their actions.

With this idea of the spirit of the game, we have a chance to decide what it means when we say people like us to things like this. We get to decide what the rules because, where there are no rules, there will be no game. With corporatism and capitalism, they affect all of us, so there is no such thing as only side-effects. We need to build a culture where the only people who get rewarded are the people who embrace the spirit of the game.

Culture creates efficiency by establishing a game where we can be the best version of ourselves. When we play in the spirit of that game, it is about the fact that we will get something but so will other people. It is the idea that the very best way to figure out how we can get what we want is by helping others to get what they want. We can embrace the effects that each of us can build a world where the spirit of the game says that the best thing we can do is to call our fouls. But if we do not call our own fouls, the culture is going to make it clear that we are not one of us.