The Snake at House 84 and The Infinite Game

The Snake at House 84 and The Infinite Game

“Yesterday a young friend called up, and our conversation reminded me of the snake at house 84” I was writing my morning pages as I spoke to Lulu, my parrot. Lulu was playing with a pair of dice on my table. He looked up and gave me a curious look.

“I hate snakes. Everybody hates snakes”. He paused for a while. “Are you talking about the snake in the snake and ladder game? The reptile in house 84 which swallows you and takes you to house 5, or something like that?”

“You got it right, Lulu. I have been thinking about that snake and obviously his bite is symbolic. I am remembering him because my young friend was praising my work. And for a change, his good words did not work magic on me.”

“Riddles, man, riddles.”

“I was attending a training program at IIM-Ahmedabad when the snake at house 84 bit me hard. In 1991. I was forty years old then and thought that I knew everything in industrial relations though I was careful not to say it openly.”

“Wise of you! So?”

“Prof. NR Sheth delivered a lecture and he spoke for ninety minutes without a reference note in his hand. He held me spell bound. It was a flow of flawless arguments and deep insights. I realized that my unspoken claim of having ‘arrived on the scene’ was imaginary and baseless. By the end of his lecture, I held Dr Sheth in deep respect; I had not met him earlier. I realized where I stood, and I felt humbled.”

The Snake (Courtesy Zdenek Machacek on Unsplash)

“That was the proverbial snake bite? It must have bitten your ego. Now I understand why you said that the snake at house 84 brought you down to house 5. Ha, ha. Good snake bite, I say. Do you know why Lord Shiva has a snake around his neck? Snake represents ego, so it is a symbol of his having ‘conquered’ his ego.”

“I also felt if I could ever speak on industrial relations like him. Ex tempore. Yet deep and well-organized thoughts. I wondered what he did to reach such an exalted level.”

“Yes, he was a great professor and researcher.”

“As if his lecture and the assault on my ego was not enough, the next lecture by Dr Pradip Khandwala had the same impact. He too spoke for ninety minutes and I felt very small. I then knew that there was a long road ahead to reach their level. Unending road perhaps.”

“Good you hit the ground with a thud.”

“The trouble was how to reach there, their exalted level. It was not about delivering a fine lecture alone.”

“I get you; you are thinking about the high expertise level or excellence level.”

“Right. I wondered when, how and if I will ever be like Dr Sheth and Dr Khandwala”

“If you ask wrong question, you get wrong answer, my friend”

“What’s that?”

Lulu, my parrot

“You can never be like any other person. Don’t you know the story of Bradman? He appreciated a shot played by Len Hutton and decided to hit a similar shot. When he tried, he got out. I don’t know if it is a real story, but the lesson holds good.”

“Which is?”

“You are unique. Play the game your way. Keep Dr Sheth and Dr Khandwala as ‘sources of inspiration for excellence’, but not as ‘goals’, and that’s their role in your life”

“But how do I ever become like them?

“Let me repeat. You can never be like them. Keep them as your standards of excellence.”

“They spoke of everyday experiences and not so much about technical stuff; culling out insights for applying in developing relationships. They said we actually speak of conflicts when we speak of relationships, and that we should focus on ‘developing’ relationship with individuals and with groups like unions. I wondered how could they distill experience to derive their insights; what does a person do to learn that skill?”

“That’s simple and yet difficult. Live life sensitively, and be in the ‘present’. We sleep walk through life, right?”

“Hmmm …..”

“You can never be like them but you can be at high level of excellence, and remember, individual development is not a competition. Your world is different from everybody else, your context is different, you read different books than them, you meet different people who become your source of inspiration, and I can go on differentiating.”

“I get it what you mean is that every person is unique.”

“And must focus only on his or her development. The problem is when you mistake development for a ‘finite game.’ Haven’t you heard of Finite and Infinite Games? That holds the answer. A finite game has a clear beginning, middle and end. Like a game of Football. Or Cricket. But an infinite game does not have defined rules. It has no clear beginning, no clear end.

“This is a riddle to me. What do you mean by not having a start and end to a game? What kind of game is that?”

“Is there a competition in a relationship? Do husband and wife compete, is there a winner? Or among good friends? Do they decide who ‘wins’ in a relationship? Simon Sinek asks a fundamental question; and here it is: ‘when we die will anyone among us be declared a ‘winner of life’’?”

“Winner of Life? What a question! Are you saying that one’s own development is an infinite game?”

“You got me right!” Lulu pushed the pair of dice over the table top, they fell down.

“Yes, there is no competition with anybody, there is no benchmark, and there is no goal like becoming like Dr Sheth or Dr Khandwala, there is no winning, there is just playing to your full potential. We have to strive to be better than what we were yesterday.”

And if you do it, there will be no snake in the house 84 too!” Lulu looked at me. Parrots hate snakes.

Vivek S Patwardhan

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” **** “Aroehan: Creating Dream Villages in Mokhada by 2025: “No Malnutrition Deaths, No Child ‘Out of School’, Reduction in migration by 50%.”