Play the game

  • By Paramananda Ponnaiyan
  • 06 Jul, 2020
Play the game

One of the most common reasons for failing is because we tend to play our own version of the game rather than the actual game.

The Game

Any interaction of human beings can be modelled as a game. I dont say this in a derogatory way. In every interaction there is a goal and there are rules. Our vocation is a great example. At work there are goals and there are rules. The Goals could be to grow in the organization, get more people who want to work with you etc and the rules could be, dont kill anyone etc.

Ambiguous Goals

Many times, the goals are not clear. For example, in the corporate setup, getting a promotion is a goal, but what are the criteria for a promotion are not always clear. At the time of appraisal, you may find out that although the project was successful, your peers didnt like working with you and hence you were not chosen for promotion. Or maybe the project you worked on, didnt impact to the company’s top line, so you didnt get the promotion.

What usually happens at these times, is that you complain But I didnt know.

All manner of human games are complex. Even if a few goals are explicitly spelled out, there are many more that are implicit. So whenever you enter a new group of people, take some time to understand the culture. What is praised ? and what gets vilified ? What is accepted ? and What is rejected?. This will give you a good idea of how to prioritize your actions.

Ambiguous Rules

Every culture is held together with unwritten rules. The reason they are unwritten is twofold,

  1. It seems common sense in the culture

In modern culture, stealing a neighbor’s possession is obviously wrong, but in warring tribes it legal and even something to be proud of.

  1. There are way too many to write down and rules tend to multiply and grow in number

Every rule gives rise to corollaries that become rules in their own right. In this way the number of unwritten rules keeps growing.

Obstacles are Part of the Game

In a game, everything that stops you from getting the goal is an obstacle. Obstacles are part of the Game. You will never see a sports person cry about an obstacle on the playing field. In life, though, we tend to criticize and moan about obstacles, how they are so unfair!, how demeaning they are etc. Why is that ?

Treating obstacles as part of the game can avoid much of the resistance we have when dealing with them. Games with more obstacles are more interesting and may have greater rewards!


Ultimately, every employer is looking for people to solve their problems, with their specific constraints. The key to a solution is Creativity. Unfortunately, when trying to fit in, we also unconsciously start thinking like everyone else. You will not find the solution to a problem in the thinking that caused it in the first place!. So you may be faced with a situation where you need to modify the culture.

Extending the Culture

In order to change the Culture, you need to first be percieved as “fitting in”. So you need to follow the implicit and explicit rules before you try and change them. Without adopting the culture, you will face a lot of resistance when trying to change it.


When playing human games look for both implicit and explicit goals and implicit and explicit rules! If you want to change the culture of a group of people, try and fit in first.