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The Conflict And "Institutions" Of Endgames

The First Rule Of Strategy is "Look forward and reason backward."

Looking forward requires imagination. Looking forward means you imagine a future. A future with people in a place with things to sustain it. A future where people are happy to be together. A future that's a Positive-Sum Game.

If that Positive-Sum Game is the last game you can imagine, it's also your Endgame.

From your Endgame, you reason backward.

That's the beginning of strategy. You imagine an Endgame and reason backward.

But your Endgame isn't the only Endgame out there. Chances are, your Endgame will conflict with other people's Endgames. You'll want the same people, places or things in your Endgame that they want for theirs.

Which is how conflicts start.

Conflicts start because the same people, places and things can't be in every Endgame.

It looks like this:

Conflict with Bin Laden started because he imagined an Endgame that conflicted with another Endgame. In A Spy's Guide To Strategy, you can see the structure and explanation of Bin Laden's strategy:

Wars are usually about conflicting Endgames. They're about getting the right people, places and things for an Endgame.

After somebody wins, an Endgame is formed. Then, politics determines the formal rules for how people act within the Endgame. Formal rules include rights for citizens, contract dispute settlement, and criminal law. But there are informal rules, too, including taboos, customs and traditions. Together, the formal and informal rules are called "Institutions" by Nobel Laureate Douglass North.

You need good "institutions" for an Endgame to work. You need formal and informal rules. You need people to have a common understanding of how they work together. You need people to want to work together for any Positive-Sum Game, especially an Endgame, to work.

Which is a problem with politics.

It's a problem because politics are also about conflict. Not usually conflict over people, places and things. Instead, politics are about conflict over the formal and informal rules inside the Endgame. After all, there can be different types of Endgames for the same people, places and things. There can be different "institutions" that define an Endgame for the same people, places and things. Politics is about choosing which "institutions" win.

In the United States, history would have been very different if the Articles of Confederation had stayed in place rather than the Constitution of 1787. But the Constitution of 1787 won. It was ratified in 1789 and became the formal rules for the United States. A set of formal rules consistent with the informal rules of the American people.

Usually, politics is about defining those "institutions." Politics is about defining formal rules through constitutions and legislation. Politics is about making rules consistent with the taboos, customs and traditions of a group. To help the Positive-Sum Game work as well as possible.

But practically, politics is about choosing leaders who understand the informal taboos, customs and traditions of a group. So that they can create the formal rules that will be consistent with the informal taboos, customs and traditions of a group.

Which is why President Trump is such a shock to many on both the right and left of American politics.

We'll talk about President Trump's strategy and why it's so strange next.


A Spy's Guide To Strategy gives you a simple and powerful structure to think about strategy. You can apply it to business, politics and just about any other endeavor, including your own strategy.

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