Goofing Off


One of the downsides of running your own company is that you always know when at least one of your employees (you) is goofing off. Nevertheless, that was what I was doing last week. I came back from a truly wonderful Passover (see below, Fifty pounds of potatoes…) rather tuckered out, and had great difficulty changing gears and focusing on work.

After I wasn’t concentrating on the job at hand but before laying my mouse down and walking away from the computer, I succumbed to one of the dangers of modern life—computer games.

In doing so, I either made a worthwhile discovery or else deluded myself into rationalizing that I wasn’t completely wasting my time.  In an attempt not to lead others down a frivolous path, I won’t give the name of the game that seduced me, but seduce me it did.

The objective of the game was straightforward. I needed to stack playing cards by suits in order from aces to kings. What I found fascinating was that after losing the game, my computer gave me the option of replaying the exact same layout. While I occasionally won on the first round, what I discovered was that even when I lost, I was able to be victorious on my second, third or fourth try. The secret was discovering that what seemed the obvious road to victory was often a dead end path. To win, I frequently needed to ignore what looked like the unmistakable correct choice. Searching for unanticipated pitfalls was a more reliable strategy than sprinting to an easy win.

While I would not recommend that most Americans shirk work responsibilities to play computer games, I do think it could be a good idea for politicians. One potential benefit is that they might get so absorbed in the game that they won’t have time to tinker with legislation, which could have very positive results for the electorate. More importantly, maybe the message will sink in. What looks like the straight, clear-cut and simple path to objectives such as ending poverty, providing health care or quality education or achieving world peace, usually leads to a hazardous blind alley.

If a deck of inanimate cards contains surprises and snares, leading to a losing hand more often than a winning one, how can one expect manipulation concerning people to simply fall into place? It may sound like taking money from some and giving it to others will increase wealth all around, but it won’t. It may seem that increasing funding for schools will lead to better education for more students, but it won’t. It may even seem that being nice to people who want to kill you will disarm them, but it won’t.

Having a clear objective, whether winning a card game or saving the world is a good idea. But the unintended consequences of moving a seven of hearts prematurely won’t destroy lives and nations. Unfortunately, legislation’s unintended consequences are far from benign.

Hopefully, I am back to working conscientiously this week. But being reminded that good intentions and brilliant ideas often fall flat and that multiple paths may be needed on the road to success wasn’t such a waste of time after all.


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