Collaborators vs. Opportunists

We have a tendency to simplify our world into something we can understand. We build models of the world in our mind, mental models, that help us understand this complexity. These mental shortcut save us time and prevent analysis paralysis.

Our brains use these models to establish the default options that give us the ability to make decisions in real-time.

  • Lions are predators that can out run us, quick, hide!
  • Now’s our chance, take the shot!
  • That smells like death, don’t eat that!

These shortcuts help us survive and thrive; they are the mechanism that drives our instincts, and we continue to add to our library of models with each new experience.

Collaborators vs. Opportunists

This is the latest shortcut I’ve added to my arsenal. I was reading the transcript of an interview between Erik Schmidt and Julian Assange when I was introduced to this simplified approach to thinking about human behavior:

Well it's not possible to win this kind of thing. This is a continuous striving that people have done for a long time. Of course, there is many individual battles that we win, but it is the nature of human beings that human beings lie and cheat and deceive and organized groups of people who do not lie and cheat and deceive find each other and get together... and because they have that temperament, are more efficient. Because they are not lying and cheating and deceiving each other. And that is an old, a very old struggle between opportunists and collaborators. And so I don't see that going away. I think we can make some significant advances and it is perhaps, it is the making of these advances and being involved in that struggle that is good for people. So the process is in part the end game. It's not just to get somewhere in the end, rather this process of people feeling that it is worthwhile to be involved in that sort of struggle, is in fact worthwhile for people.

I don’t know if I fully subscribe to Julian Assange’s core principles, as embodied through Wikileaks, but the above quote rings true to my experiences of interacting with people. Yes, it’s an oversimplification, but I think it captures a general truth about human nature and how we organize and behave. I don’t think that collaboration and opportunity seeking are always mutually exclusive, but I know I have seen acts of opportunity seeking at the expense of collaboration.

I find this shortcut to be a handy tool for interpreting the actions of those around me, and a good check on what I’m doing or thinking.

Posted on December 23, 2013 .