in exercise, Film, Health, non zero-sum, plant-based, Stories, Whole-Food, Plant-Based

Know Which Game You’re Playing

Arrival (2016), is easily in the top tier of my favourite films of all time.

[Warning! Spoilers ahead!]

In it, Dr. Louise Banks, a professor of linguistics tries to work out this concept with her daughter, largely influenced by Bank’s physicist ex-husband.

Her daughter, Hannah, asks her busy mother one night what is the term for this definition she has in her head…


What’s the term for that thing, like a technical term, where we make like a deal, and we both get something out of it?


A compromise?




You remember what it sounds like?


Like it’s a competition but both sides end up happy.


Like a win-win?


More science-y than that.


A non-zero-sum game!

Arrival (2016)

I loved that scene and if you watch the movie you’ll see this is nearing the pivotable points of the movie where we, as the audience, starts feeling the pull of time and space unravel in this beautiful, fractal way. I digress…

I don’t think we learn about this concept enough. What are zero-sum games and what are non-zero sum games?

Through the years I’ve found that it’s an important mental model and heuristic to think about investing ones time, money etc. It applies to all aspects of business strategy, product strategy. Knowing which game you’re playing is the act of becoming metacognitive, which is my assertion that that is the highest form of accumulating knowledge and honing one’s craft.

This topic is extensive and there’s many amazing articles that I’ve read over the years about applying non-zero sum mental models to support an investment thesis. But for today I’d like to highlight to areas where my current interest lies.


Eating effectively is a zero-sum game.

Everything you put into your mouth is one less other thing you cannot put in. (Though I know some of us, at times, put the gamut of things in.)

Case in point, it’s not enough to avoid the foods that are “bad” for us, but to also replace that with foods that are “better” for us. Every meal has an opportunity cost.

Physical Fitness

Exercising or improving ones fitness is a non-zero sum game.

Anti Rent-Seeking

This most aptly applies to the investment partnerships (like the Buffett Partnerships), Founder-CEOs, CEOs or executives of manager companies and investment vehicles who don’t seek rent on minority shareholders. It’s a non-zero sum as it relates to you and the shareowners that when the company/fund/vehicle does well, you do too. It also applies that the opposite is true (i.e. some skin in the game).

These are also likely CEOs that have a large part of their own personal net worth in the company as well as not taking a huge or any salary for their involved in running the business.

Reaching for the Stars

I haven’t come across Space X or Blue Origin talking about this, but maybe Musk and Bezos has that I’ve no aware of. But I’ve been thinking that even though there’s a lot of negative talk about how we’re burning up millions of pound of fuel and dollars to build what is effectively space tourism or more modern ways of launching into orbit, I cannot help but think that in the minds of Musk and Bezos that their goal is non-zero sum. Advances made to make space flight possible has led to many cottage industries and have pushed forward advances in countless other areas of applied science and technology. This modern space race feels the same to me whereby some advances in materials, process or the like make it someway to improve our terrestrial lives years or decades from now.