A zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant’s gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the utility of the other participants. If the total gains of the participants are added up and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero.
This means that it is impossible to create a utilitarian situation in which one set of actions is preferable to another.
Under the conditions of a zero-sum game it is often assumed there will be a generalised growth in rational selfish behaviour, where both players always seek to minimise the opponent’s payoff in favour of their own gain.
In psychology, zero-sum thinking refers to the perception that a situation is like a zero-sum game, where one person’s gain is another’s loss.
In your day-to-day decision-making processes, it is important to consider whether your tasks are part of a zero-sum game. I find it all to easy in my own life to fall into the trap of zero-sum thinking, when in fact very few choices in the complex world the 21st century can be considered in this category.
Under this thinking, inefficient competition is created, when in fact many of us may find we can actually maximise our utilitarian output using mutual cooperation.