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Playing to Win vs Playing Not to Lose

The Prisoners’ Dilemma teaches many lessons. One of them is the difference between playing to win and playing not to lose. What could that be?

Imagine that two friends, Peter and Paul commit a crime. Eventually, they were picked up by the Police and were being interrogated separately. They were each given a deal:

  • If Peter confesses and betrays Paul, Peter goes free while Paul gets one year in jail.
  • If Paul confesses and betrays Peter, Paul goes free while Peter gets one year in jail.
  • If both confess, each gets six months in jail
  • If neither confesses, each gets two months in jail.

Paul Paul
 BetrayBe Silent
PeterBetrayPaul: Six months
Peter: Six months
Paul: One year
Peter: Go free
PeterBe silentPaul: Go free
Peter: One year
Paul: Two months
Peter: Two months

If you were the one, which would you choose? Yeah, I know it could never be you. But if you had to advise one of them, what would you advise?

One thought says to play it safe and confess and both get to spend six months. This is better that one person spending one whole year in jail. Yet there is the option of keeping quiet and both spending only two months.

That is the difference between winning and losing.

Taking two months as winning (the best global scenario), it is only possible if each dares all the risks and goes for the best possible i.e. take your eyes off the undesired possibilities and aim for the desired.

Yet, another thought thinks to play it safe by going for the middle point: six months each. If you confess, the worst that will happen is six months in jail. This option embraces the undesired and accepts to live with it.

Anyone who would win needs to think of and aim for the desired. Any other thought after that is about how to eliminate the undesired along the way, not about how to embrace them.

What do you think?

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

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