“Keeping both eyes on the long game”

This blog is mostly about the long game of life. But more on that in a moment. Because, from time to time, I’ll also share some puzzles (I like puzzles), and more rarely I’ll also write about coding and technical stuff and tricks I’ve come across while I’m teaching myself to draw, speak Mandarin and everything else on my long list of interests. Mostly though, this blog is about the long game of life.

Which is quite a broad topic that includes almost everything, and so it’s not much use as a topic. More specifically, more usefully, I’m only interested in how we – you, me, all of us – can best play it to win. That is its focus, and on closer examination, it also serves us best to divide the long game into two.

To start with, there’s the Little Long Game that is my life (or your life) and nothing more, and you or I win this game if we’re as happy as possible.

In one sense, this game is easy to win because it’s pretty easy to objectively work out what makes me happy, and there are all sorts of cognitive tricks I can play to rationally focus my beliefs and behaviour on maximising my time-discounted overall happiness. I use a few of these already, and I’ll write about those because my life is genuinely amazing already. But in another sense, the Little Long Game is also very hard to win. Human psychology makes me intrinsically dissatisfied with the status quo. So I’m also constantly searching for new trips, tricks and perspectives to make the status quo better still, and also new tips, tricks and perspectives that make me happier with the status quo as it is.

That’s the Little Long Game. But there’s also the Big Long Game, and it’s nothing more nor less than everyone’s life, the future of the planet, the future of the solar system, the future of it all. To live long and prosper. Much bigger, much harder, also much more important, and a quick glance at Easter Island shows us why we must make a deliberate choice to play the Big Long Game, lest we accidentally play only the short game. For tree by tree, Easter Island was steadily deforested, and it was never in any individual’s interests to stop cutting down trees – even though every tree cut down helped wash away their future.

It’s also dangerous to look too long at Easter Island, because we’ll think too small, and human history is replete with examples of groups, societies, civilisations that solved tomorrow’s problem only to be wiped out by next week’s. Whether it’s the Mayan agricultural collapse circa 800AD, the fall of the French aristocracy or as simple as the classic English tragedy of the commons, we have an abysmal historic win-loss record at the Big Long Game.

So really, winning the Big Long Game means solving two problems, neither of them cognitively, psychologically or socially easy, and I’m going to write about both in this blog.

Firstly, we must look very widely, and we must think very big. To the edge of the solar system and beyond, of far more than this little pale blue dot. Maybe we will look more widely and broadly than we need to right now – but that only means we win the even longer, bigger game as well. Instead, far more likely, we’ll look only nearly far enough ahead, and economic, environmental, social, political and technological disaster will loom again sooner than anyone could have expected. So let’s look long and far and think very very carefully about the future.

Secondly, simple economics and simple history – the examples above – show us that unless we make it in everyone’s interests to play the Big Long Game right now then none of us can. We seem as bound by economic laws of human nature as we are by the laws of physics, and no complexity will disguise this fact.

Now, I don’t know how to solve the second problem yet,and it would be an obvious lie to say anyone knew the solution to the first. But I’ve got some ideas and if I’ve learnt one thing at BCG it’s that it’s amazing how many impossible problems have solutions once you just start working on them. So I’m optimistic we can find our way.

3 thoughts on ““Keeping both eyes on the long game”

  1. Looking forward to reading about your thoughts on this. Mostly because I’ve come to a point where I avoid thinking about the long game, big or small. I see that after a point the future becomes dangerously uncertain. I can play some mind tricks and sail through those uncertain waters but I know that those tricks will hold my sail only for so long. Having tried and then crashed into rocks many times, I’ve become cautious of long-term thinking. Maybe your ideas will help me get over that fear.

  2. Pingback: Page not found « Qua locus

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