Don't be Outcome Oriented-image

Don't be Outcome Oriented

Date published: 10-Aug-2023
5 min read / 1295 words
Author: Luciano Remes
Game Theory

Life is a multiplayer imperfect game, there are other players in this game, each focused on optimizing their own set of objectives. A business man trying to maximize his stock grants this quarter, an overzealous film major trying to make the best possible film they can, a redditor proselytising some new text editor, or a programmer trying to make software that improves quality of life for humans. All of them are playing a game and optimizing on different levels. In whatever case, none of them should be outcome oriented.


prisoner's dilemma outlines an interesting thought experiment where there are 2 assumed logical actors that attempt to minimize the amount of time spent in jail by making one of two choices to collaborate or defect. Seldom will you encounter situations exactly like these because the world is just too multi-variate and no one person has so much control over you. Generally, a lot of the things that we individually optimize for, tend to align with those of other players, i.e I like people and conversations, thus, I will make friends and collaborate. In order to direct myself towards a favorable goal I like to min-max decisions in my life that I know will maximally achieve this aim. Sometimes against what I feel like doing, people normally call this discipline. I engage in games that are positive-sum and grow the pie, as opposed to zero-sum games where the size of the pie is fixed and gains are necessarily at the direct detriment of some other player in the system and lead you towards prisoner's dilemma type scenarios. While it's unavoidable to have some of these situations, a contrasting idea of Grow The Pie, has emerged, most notably in the book by the same name. It seems to me that most capitalist games are zero-sum, so I don't put much energy into them (while still existing in the system), instead I shift my perspective to focus on the kind of activities that improve my life through the impact to disrupt and grow the pie, call it, effective egoism. I like to think about life through the lens of Game Theory. Generally applying these game theory rules to my life has helped me make better decisions and at the age of 23, find relative success in my industry.

I define a set of axioms which are used to derive (ideally) game theory optimal decisions, I'm not an objectivist so I'll say that these axioms are almost entirely arbitrary. I learned this idea of being game theory optimal from my time spent playing Poker. I was never a famous player, nor do I claim to be exceptionally good, but I did start playing at a young age, know the game pretty well, and I've played over the table a couple times. In Poker, a lot of the times the objective is to try to exploit a player through their perceived weaknesses, thus people often TheoryCraft strategies to not be exploitable. Poker is an imperfect game, meaning that as a player you don't have all the information of the game at any given moment because each player has cards that they don't reveal. This is in contrast to a perfect game like Chess where each player has perfect information of the position on the board at any moment. In a way, this makes Chess a solved game because given infinite compute and infinite time you could determine the perfect set of moves to either win or tie any game, it is decidable. Obviously, the game tree is so incredibly large that it's impossible with the current state of computation to enumerate all possible states in a reasonable amount of time. Well, there is also a decision tree in poker and it's also mostly been solved, but the game is imperfect so now we introduce probability. This probability makes it impossible to perfectly determine the outcome of a game, so now there is no way to play perfectly. What we're left with is a probabilistic strategy called GTO (Game Theory Optimal), this playstyle is predetermined by probabilities of hands in any possible position, such that if you're able to do these calculations and stick to them, your play will be unexploitable. You will have played Poker in the Game Theory Optimal way. This has been proven to be a great strategy and many poker players have utilized different forms of it to win millions of dollars. This is really difficult to do, and the best players usually utilize some combination of instinctive play and GTO. Nevertheless, all top Poker players can do two things really well, control their emotions and stick to a strategy.

There's a lot we can learn from understanding game theory and the lessons of GTO playstyle. Much like the Kevin Spacy movie 21 subtly pointed out, "We're not gambling, we're following a specific set of rules and following a system". Playing GTO is similar to this mentality, although it's a lot less secure than some collaborative card counting strategy like the one shown in the movie. Much like counting cards, in GTO you shouldn't allow yourself to get emotional, the system only works if you stick to it. Humans have all sorts of psychological perception problems that prevent us from making GTO decisions in our lives, the Dunning-Kruger effect being one of the most popular ones. These subtle bugs in our perception system keep us from having better information in a game that's already imperfect. It takes a lot of deliberate effort and ruthless self-reflection to control emotions. That's why not everyone is a top poker player, and why Phil Hellmuth will never be the best poker player (I say this as a Hellmuth fan). Life is buggy, you gotta make due with what you have and alter your model to adjust for perception problems.

But before you update your model, remember, the outcome of one game shouldn't alter your strategy, that is to say a discrete instance should never alter a long term strategy. This is easy to intellectualize, but difficult to implement in reality. We've all experienced this moment when we make a (seemingly) optimal move with the imperfect information we have and we lose. This inevitably negative feedback from probabilistic games makes it difficult for our minds to stick to them. This is when most people usually falter, but this rule applies both ways as well. You might make an objectively bad move and because of the outcome of the game believe that it was a good move. These are both fallacies, here are the 2 rules:

  • Never assume that just because you won a hand, you played GTO.
  • Never assume that just because you lost a hand, you didn't play GTO.

The efficacy of a strategy is evaluated over a long period of time, through many hands, not just one. In life, long-term strategies beat out short-term ones almost always. This is all very abstract, it can be difficult to apply these rules to real life. But it's important to keep in mind this kind of discrete impartiality when looking at the outcomes of our actions in the real world. That isn't to say you should never change your mind/strategy, just if you do, make sure that it's because your strategy has been proven wrong.

Most information is free on the internet and there's nothing keeping you from learning and optimizing. Existence is already an imperfect game, you can't possibly know everything, but it doesn't hurt to know a bit more. I find that the world is mostly comprised of smaller simpler games, the difficult part is figuring out what game you're playing, then the GTO decision is usually pretty self-evident.

Figure out what game you're playing and start making GTO decisions.