Tuesday, September 4, 2018

More than Enough To Go Around

Nine years ago, a photo of a mother and child in Darfur captivated my heart.  My dear friend Chip Duncan had prepared a book – Enough to Go Around – Searching for Hope in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Darfur.  As an award-winning photojournalist, his eye was capable of rendering in film those raw, present moments in which humanity triumphed against the stark – at times, ghastly – scourges of indescribable suffering.  A year earlier in Peru (when I met Chip on the Inca Trail) I had come to learn of a man who was willing to travel to the farthest reaches of the globe to bring to all our attention things that mattered.  In the ensuing year, Chip tried to find a sponsor who would publish the book and, courtesy of several business deals that provided me a bit more than enough in the moment, we decided to sponsor the book’s publishing. 

We live in a world in which the message of Chip’s book continues to be lost on most.  While many people can disparagingly look at the starkness of the images and consider “enough” through the lens of the distribution of sparse resources, Chip’s book highlighted the expansive properties of “enough”.  Seeing a world in which the linkages of humanity expand possibilities.  Sharing the unspeakable joy of one friend’s success shared as the triumph of the community.  Experiencing the diversity of life and its complexity as an extension of living wisdom.

I’m impressed with explicit catechism of the hideous logic popularized in John Von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern’s 1944 Theory of Games and Economic Behavior which set forth the principle of the zero-sum game.  This meant that, “the sum of all payments received by all players (at the end of the game) always zero.”  Put another way, for every winner, there must be an equivalent loser or set of losers.  In business, personal relationships, and social interactions, zero-sum thinking leads to massive energy sinks. 

For over a year, I’ve been waiting to make progress on a business transaction which is considered to be one of the market’s largest disruptive opportunities.  A business partner has been paralyzed for nearly a year with the artificial paradox created by zero-sum thinking.  In their business, much of their revenue is derived from the incumbent corporations who will be most impacted by our disruption.  As a result, the possibility of the success in the future is immobilized by the recognition that they (and their existing revenue paying clients) must realign priorities to assimilate what good old-fashioned self-interest dictates.  They want the benefit of the promising future but don’t want the risk of disrupting incumbent cashflows.  At no point is there a consideration of a mutually accretive situation in which our combined success can build annuity revenue strength to what is currently capricious marketing expenditures.  Someone has to win.  Someone has to lose.  And in the process, a year of business has been moribund.

All of us have had a friendship that has unnecessarily languished because a person has decided that there is finitude in the capacity for love and friendship.  Rather than seeing expanding circles of friendship as a resilient network that makes the tapestry of emotional support more robust and responsive, living is impaired because friends have to “choose”.  By the way – that word when applied to friendship or most other living situations – is a zero-sum flag.  I may select where I place time and attention in a moment without choosing in a priority-based paradigm of winners and losers.  The duality of zero-sum and “choice” or “priority” based thinking traps people into believing that they are more or less important as equivalence is not possible.  Someone must be more favored – someone less. 

When this type of thinking and behaving characterizes business or social interactions, the net effect is loss.  Focus is placed on emotional gamesmanship and posturing rather than on aligned progress.  Necessary communication is disrupted because distractions – both overt and passive aggressive – disrupt the normal flow of necessary interaction.  Incentives are hijacked for vindictive or posturing outcomes rather than singularly focused on equivalent benefit.  Emotional energy is consumed in pettiness rather than in rallying to purpose. 

Chip gave us an amazing gift to jolt us out of this pettiness.  By showing us the glorious moments of triumph in places of devastation, he gave us the opportunity to hit the pause button on our behaviors and consider those around the world who are finding light in the darkness.  And while I don’t pitch many books, on this anniversary of its publication, I encourage each of you to read, share, and integrate the messages of Enough to Go Around – Searching for Hope in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Darfur.  From the image on the cover to the last word of the book, you too will see a world in which zero-sum has no place.  And wherever the image of the mother and child hangs on a wall or graces a coffee table, let that gaze remind us that enough is more.  There’s enough because when it’s shared, there’s always more!


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Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave