Friday, March 26, 2004

The Meaning of a Killer Instinct

So, does having a killer instinct mean a person has to give up kindness as a pursuit? Does having (or building) a sense of self-perservation mean we can't care about others? Essentially these questions were put to me after my last post and I'm glad they came up because I do not see these as mutually exclusive.

For anyone reading my essays who might not already know me, it's important to point out that it's not uncommon for me to use intentionally misleading terminology for the shock value, to get people to think about what they really think and want in life. When what I say sounds wrong to you, it's generally a good idea to at least consider the possibility that I don't mean it the way you took it... although it's also true sometimes that I mean it exactly that way!

So why did I talk about having a "killer instinct"? Mostly I called it that because that's the phrase my friend used, though I'm sure he didn't mean it in a bad way either. What he saw in me at the time was a timidity that didn't suit me. I was already good at the being kind part... all the way to the point of letting folks walk all over me. In my on-air work, it showed up as a lack of confidence; I didn't believe in myself enough to have very many other people believing in me either.

What I had to find was a balance. I knew I wasn't suited to being a braggart or someone who stepped all over others to get what I wanted. I did have to develop more confidence in myself though, and exude enough of it to have others believing in me too. And while caring about others is important, it is also possible to overdo it when one has no sense of self-preservation at all.

So where does a person find the right balance?

For me, the "a-ha!" came on seeing the movie A Beautiful Mind. In it, the mathematician John Nash describes for his friends how Adam Smith's view on free market capitalism is missing an important component... that if they all look out only for their own self-interests, then no one will end up with what they want. It's competition taken too far. Of course he says this as they are all acting out the other extreme: no one is acting on any self-interest what-so-ever. What follows is a mathematical description of why it works out best for everyone involved (well, everyone but the blond, anyway) if they instead further the best interests of the group that also align most with their own self-interests.

Basically, you're no help to the team if you take yourself out of the game, nor do you gain much for long if you seek to be the only superstar or the only one benefitting. By finding where your own wants and needs are aligned with those of the greater group - and going for that, everyone is better off.

It's not just a curious side-note in some movie. His theories on equilibria in non-cooperative games won Nash a Nobel prize in economics (making it a great finish of triumph in the movie) and the field of negotiations has been one of the many important areas to benefit from practical application of his theories.

The more I get into this subject, the more I find that fascinates me so I have plenty more to share. For now, I'd love to have you share how you find your balance - and which side of the equation you are still working to develop. Send your thoughts to and we'll all benefit.

How would acting for both your own self-interests and the interests of the larger group look in your life?