标记档案: chess

Rules of Conflicts

In this last post in the rules of the game series, we look at the creative use of the rules in a couple of situations. Rules can be used to create productive and predictable conflicts. One such conflict is in law enforcement, where cops hate defense attorneys — if we are to believe Michael Connelly’s depiction of how things work at LAPD. It is not as if they are really working against each other, although it may look that way. Both of them are working toward implementing a set of rules that will lead to justice for all, while avoiding power concentration and corruption. The best way of doing it happens to be by creating a perpetual conflict, which also happens to be fodder for Connelly’s work.

Another conflict of this kind can be seen in a bank, between the risk taking arm (traders in the front office) and the risk controlling teams (market and credit risk managers in the middle office). The incessant strife between them, 事实上, ends up implementing the risk appetite of the bank as decided by the senior management. When the conflict is missing, problems can arise. For a trader, performance is quantified in terms of the profit (以及在较小程度, its volatility) generated by him. This scheme seems to align the trader’s interests with those of the bank, thus generating a positive feedback loop. As any electrical engineer will tell you, positive feedback leads to instability, while negative feedback (conflict driven modes) leads to stable configurations. The positive feedback results in rogue traders engaging in huge unauthorized trades leading to enormous damages or actual collapses like the Bearings bank in 1995.

We can find other instances of reinforcing feedback generating explosive situations in upper management of large corporates. The high level managers, being board members in multiple corporate entities, keep supporting each other’s insane salary expectations, thus creating an unhealthy positive feedback. If the shareholders, 另一方面, decided the salary packages, their own self-interest of minimizing expenses and increasing the dividend (and the implicit conflict) would have generated a more moderate equilibrium.

The rule of conflict is at work at much larger scales as well. In a democracy, political parties often assume conflicting world views and agendas. Their conflict, ratified through the electoral process, ends up reflecting the median popular view, which is the way it should be. It is when their conflicting views become so hopelessly polarized (as they seem to be in the US politics these days) that we need to worry. Even more of a worry would be when one side of the conflict disappears or gets so thoroughly beaten. In an earlier post, I lamented about just that kind of one-sidedness in the idealogical struggle between capitalism and socialism.

Conflicts are not limited to such large settings or to our corporate life and detective stories. The most common conflict is in the work-life balance that all of us struggle with. The issue is simple — we need to work to make a living, and work harder and longer to make a better living. In order to give the best to our loved ones, we put so much into our work that we end up sacrificing our time with the very loved ones we are supposedly working for. 当然, there is a bit of hypocrisy when most workaholics choose work over life — they do it, not so much for their loved ones, but for a glorification, a justification or a validation of their existence. It is an unknown and unseen angst that is driving them. Getting the elusive work-live conflict right often necessitates an appreciation of that angst, and unconventional choices. 有时, in order to win, you have to break the rules of the game.

生活: East vs. West

In the last post we examined life from the perspective of evolutionary biology. Now let’s move on to philosophy. There is an important philosophical difference between the perspectives on life in the East and the West. These views form the backdrop to the rules of life, which shape everything from our familial and societal patterns to our hopes and prayers. How these rules (which depend on where you come from) do it is not merely interesting, but necessary to appreciate in today’s world of global interactions. In one of his lectures, Yale philosophy professor Shelly Kagan made a remark that the basic stance vis-a-vis 生活 (and death) in the West is that life is a good thing to have; it is a gift. Our job is to fill it with as much happiness, accomplishments and glory as possible.

The Eastern view is just the opposite – the first of the four noble truths of Buddhism is that life is suffering. 印度教, which gave birth to Buddhism, says things like this world and the cycle of life are very difficult (Iha Samsare Bahu DustareBhaja Govindam, 例如). Our job is to ensure that we don’t get too attached to the illusory things that life has to offer, including happiness. When we pray for our dead, we pray that they be relieved of the cycle of life and death. Deliverance is non-existence.

当然, I am vastly oversimplifying. (Let me rephrase that — this oversimplified version is all I know. I am very ignorant, but I plan to do something about it very soon.) Viewed in the light of these divergent stances against the conundrum of life, we see why westerners place such a premium on personal happiness and glory, while their eastern counterparts tend to be fatalistic and harp on the virtues of self sacrifice and lack of ambition (or its first cousin, 贪心).

To an ambitious westerner, any chance at an incremental increase in personal happiness (through a divorce and remarriage, 例如) is too good an opportunity to pass up. On the other side of the globe, to one brought up in the Hindu way of life, happiness is just another illusory manifestation not to be tempted by. Those caught in between these two sets of rules of life may find it all very confusing and ultimately frustrating. That too is a macro level pattern regimented by the micro level rules of the game.

Game of Life

We started this series with chess and then moved on to the socio-political topology of a typical corporate landscape. Both could be understood, in some vague and generous sense, in terms of a simple set of rules. If I managed to convince you of that satement, it is thanks to my writing prowess, rather than the logical cohesion of my argument. I am about to extend that shaky logic to the game of life; and you should be wary. But I can at least promise you a good read.

好, with that reservation stated and out of the way, let’s approach the problem systematically. My thesis in this series of posts is that the macro-level patterns of a dynamic system (like a chess game, corporate office, or life itself) can be sort of predicted or understood in terms of the rules of engagement in it. In chess, we saw that general pattern of any game (viz. structured beginning, messy mid-game, clean endgame with a win, lose or draw) is what the rules prescribe. In this last post, we are going to deal with life. In a trivial analogy to chess, we can describe the pattern like this: we are all born somewhere and some point in time, we make our play for a few years, and we bow out with varying amount of grace, regardless of how high we soar and how low we sink during our years. But this pattern, though more rigorously followed than our chess pattern, is a bit too trivial. What are the salient features or patterns of human life that we are trying to understand? Human life is so complex with so many aspects of existence and dimensions of interactions among them that we can only hope to understand a limited projection of a couple of its patterns. Let’s choose the pattern of family units first.

The basic set of rules in human life comes from evolutionary biology. As a famous man put it, nothing in biology (or life itself, I would think) makes sense except in the light of evolution. 另一方面, everything from gender politics to nuclear family units makes perfect sense as the expressions of the genetic commands encoded in our DNA, although we may be stretching the hypothesis to fit the facts (which is always possible to do) when we view it that way. Let’s look at the patterns of gender relations in family units, with the preamble that I am a total believer in gender equality, 至少, my own brand of it.

Evolutionary biology tells us that the instruction encoded in our genes is very simple — just live a little longer, which is at the root of our instincts for self preservation and reproduction. 到底, this instruction expresses itself as a man’s hidden antipathy toward monogamy and a woman’s overt defense of its virtues. Although this oft-repeated argument can be seen as a feeble attempt at justifying the errant and philandering behavior of man, it has simplicity on its side. It makes sense. The argument goes like this: in order to ensure the continued survival of his genes, a man has to mate with as many partners as possible, as often as possible. 另一方面, given the long gestation period, a woman optimizes the survival chances of her genes by choosing the best possible specimen as her mate and tying him down for undivided attention and for future use. Monogamy indeed is virtuous from her perspective, but too cruel a rule in a man’s view. To the extent that most of the world has now adopted monogamy and the associated nuclear family system as their preferred patterns, we can say that women have won the gender war. Why else would I feel scared to post this article? Weaker sex, indeed!

Evolutionary biology is only one way of looking at life. Another interesting set of rules comes from spiritual and religious philosophy, which we will look at in the next post.

Art of Corporate War

A more complex example of how the rules shape the patterns on the ground is the corporate game. The usual metaphor is to portray employees as cogs in the relentless wheel of the corporate machinery, or as powerless pawns in other people’s power plays. But we can also think of all of them as active players with their own resources engaged in tiny power plays of their own. So they end up with a corporate life full of office politics, smoke and mirrors, and pettiness and backstabbing. When they take these things personally and love or hate their co-workers, they do themselves an injustice, 我认为. They should realize that all these features are the end result of the rules by which they play the corporate game. The office politics that we see in any modern workspace is the topology expected of the rules of the game.

What are these famous rules I keep harping on? You would expect them to be much more complex that those of a simple chess game, given that you have a large number of players with varying agendas. But I’m a big fan of simplicity and Occam’s Razor as any true scientist should be (which is an oblique and wishful assertion that I am still one, 当然), and I believe the rules of the corporate game are surprisingly simple. As far as I can see, there are just twoone is that the career progression opportunities are of a pyramid shape in that it gets progressively more difficult to bubble to the top. The other rule is that at every level, there is a pot of rewards (such as the bonus pool, 例如) that needs to be shared among the co-workers. From these rules, you can easily see that one does better when others do badly. Backstabbing follows naturally.

In order to be a perfect player in this game, you have to do more than backstabbing. You have to develop an honest-to-john faith in your superiority as well. Hypocrisy doesn’t work. I have a colleague who insists that he could do assembly-level programming before he left kindergarten. I don’t think he is lying per-se; he honestly believes that he could, 据我可以告诉. 现在, this colleague of mine is pretty smart. 然而, after graduating from an IIT and working at CERN, I’m used to superior intelligences and geniuses. And he ain’t it. But that doesn’t matter; his undying conviction of his own superiority is going to tide him over such minor obstacles as reality checks. I see stock options in his future. If he stabs someone in the back, he does it guiltlessly, almost innocently. It is to that level of virtuosity that you have to aspire, if you want to excel in the corporate game.

Almost every feature of the modern corporate office, from politics to promotions, and backstabbing to bonuses, is a result of the simple rules of the game that we play it by. (Sorry about the weak attempt at the first letter rhyme.) The next expansion of this idea, 当然, is the game of life. We all want to win, but ultimately, it is a game where we will all lose, because the game of life is also the game of death.


Richard FeynmanRichard Feynman used to employ the game of chess as a metaphor for the pursuit of physics. Physicists are like uninitiated spectators at a chess match, and they are trying figure out the rules of the game. (He also used 性别, but that’s another story.) They observe the moves and try figure out the rules that govern them. Most of the easy ones are soon discovered, but the infrequent and complex ones (such as castling, to use Feynman’s example) are harder to decipher. The chess board is the universe and the players are presumably the Gods. So when Albert Einstein’s Albert Einstein said that he wanted to know God’s thoughts, and that the rest were details, he probably meant he wanted to know the rules and the strategies based on them. Not the actual pattern on the board at any point in time, which was a mere detail.

A remarkable Indian writer and thinker, O. V. Vijayan, also used the metaphor of a chess game to describe the armed strife between India and her sibling neighbor. He said that our too countries were mere pawns in a grand chess game between giant players of the cold war. The players have stopped playing at some point, but the pawns still fight on. What made it eerie (in a Dr. Strangelove sort of way) is the fact that the pawns had huge armies and nuclear weapons. When I first read this article by O. V. Vijayan, his clarity of perspective impressed me tremendously because I knew how difficult it was to see these things even-handedly without the advantage of being outside the country — the media and their public relations tricks make it very difficult, if not impossible. It is all very obvious from the outside, but it takes a genius to see it from within. But O. V. Vijayan’s genius had impressed me even before that, and I have a short story and a thought snippet by him translated and posted on this blog.

Chess is a good metaphor for almost everything in life, with its clear and unbending rules. But it is not the rules themselves that I want to focus on; it is the topology or the pattern that the rules generate. Even before we start a game, we know that there will be an outcome — it is going to be a win, loss or a draw. 1-0, 0-1 或 0.5-0.5. How the game will evolve and who will win is all unknown, but that it will evolve from an opening of four neat rows through a messy mid game and a clear endgame is pretty much given. The topology is pre-ordained by the rules of the game.

A similar set of rules and a consequent topology exists in the corporate world as well. 这就是接下来的文章主题.


当我还是一个十几岁, 我以前是在国际象棋还不错. 我的业余围棋生涯的亮点是在八十年代末,当我打 曼努埃尔·亚伦, 九时印度全国冠军和印度的第一个国际大师. 真, 它只是一个展览的同时, 和他玩 32 我们的. 真, 其他三人也打不过他. 还… 甚至比击败了冠军更令人满意的是事实,我的朋友, 所在亲切地叫库蒂, 被打先生. 亚伦. 要理解为什么库蒂的损失比我赢更甜, 我们要回去了几年.

日期 – 八月 1983. 地点 – 别. 20 马德拉斯邮件. (的门外汉 — 这是一列火车把一个来自我的家乡特里凡得琅的马德拉斯. 这些城市后来改名为特里凡得琅和金奈的爱国灵感的瞬间; 但我离开那段时间,喜欢老, 较短的名称。) 我是在火车去我的大学 (个人所得税, 马德拉斯) 作为一个新生. 我并不知道, 所以是库蒂, 谁是坐在对面的小岛在车上 (我们用来调用一个隔间或转向架。) 不久,我们攀谈起来,并认识到,我们打算是同学. 库蒂看起来像一个无害的字符 — 所有的眼睛闪烁, 厚厚的眼镜, 易笑容和大声笑.MandakOurWing.jpg

事情进展很顺利,直到他注意到在我的东西,我的磁性棋盘. 行, 我承认这一点, 我已经安排好了,这样的人会注意到它. 你看, 我非常自豪这个棋盘,我的 亲爱的爸爸 让我作为一个 礼物 (从一个表哥在工作 “海湾,” 当然). 库蒂说, “哦, 你对弈?” 他说,这几乎太随便, 那声调响起警钟,这些天, 由于经历像很快就蒸发在一列火车的那烘箱.

但, 年轻而鲁莽,因为我是, 我没有听从警告. 我曾经想了很多我自己的日子 — 人格特质我还没有完全超越, 根据我的另一半. 所以我说, 同样随便, “是啊, 你呢?”

“是啊, 打开和关闭…”



经过几次开放的举措, 库蒂问我 (而钦佩, 我当时的想法), “所以, 你读了很多关于国际象棋的书籍?” 我还记得这清楚 — 这是正确的我fianchetto后, 而且老实说,我认为库蒂是后悔他的决定与这个未知的高手下棋. 我觉得他问了几个更多的问题在同样 — “你在打比赛?” “你在你的校队?” 等等. 当我坐在那里感觉不错, 库蒂是, 好, 下棋. 不久,我发现我的fianchetto对角线无可救药封锁三个我自己的棋子, 和我所有的碎片卡在糖蜜无处可去. 二十多痛苦的举动后, 这是我衷心谁后悔我的参展棋盘. 你看, 库蒂是印度全国象棋冠军, 在分初级组.

在我们的个人所得税的行话, 这是彻底的极化, 国际象棋游戏, 就像很多随之而来的游戏, 因为我一直在未来四年挑战库蒂. 你看, 我已经没有任何疑虑的战斗不可能赔率. 无论如何, 我学到了很多东西从他身上. 终于, 我可以和他一起玩盲棋没有棋盘的好处, 因为我们曾经我们从天目山路到IIT一小时的车程在一个深夜电影后做, 喊出来的事情,比如NF3和 0-0 多以团伙的其余部分的烦恼. 我记得告诉库蒂说,他不能做一个特别的举动,因为他的骑士在那方.

虽然我还记得这样的说法, 它是不太可能,我会看到的东西库蒂已经错过. 他总能看到一对夫妇的举动更深入和一对夫妇更多的变化. 我记得另外一个我们的火车游戏, 一个很少见的,我得势; 我宣布, 令人印象深刻, “在交配 14!” 库蒂想了一会儿,说, “不太, 第12招后,我可以逃脱。”

无论如何, 正是这种尴尬的第一次国际象棋比赛与库蒂,使得他的损失亚伦双重甜蜜. 库蒂后来告诉我,他已经错过了一个叉, 这就是为什么他失去了. 好, 这可能是. 但你不应该错过任何东西. 没有什么是不重要的. 没有在国际象棋. 不是生活.

照片由 soupboy