Don’t hate the player, Don’t even hate the game

Last weekend, in the deep Ozark woods of Missouri, my wife and I were unplugged. For a deeply relaxing day and a half, our technology devices became paperweights. The internet couldn’t penetrate into that holler. Not even a single bar of cell reception showed up onscreen. That may have been the very best part of the place we picked to camp and hike.

That spot allowed us to unlatch from the leash of the streaming information that we habitually tether ourselves to, in any given downtime moment.

I read a book. Almost a whole book. Between Friday night and Sunday morning. Since then I have read some more, but not too much more, back in the ‘real world’ of home and facebook and youtube too.

Flash Boys by Michael Lewis, has been sitting on my shelf for many months. I bought it after seeing Michael on Charlie Rose one night. He also has authored books that became famous movies, like Moneyball and The Blindside. Really interesting guy, who digs deeply into amazing true stories.

Flash Boys is a book about people using the stock market and technology to make untold millions and yes, billions of dollars. High frequency traders employ the fastest computer technology available. They exchange stocks in tiniest of fractions of time and currency. The risk is essentially low, and the reward is outstanding. They make money in down markets and up markets. They exploit new government regulations, and the result is a massive skim of the American investor since the mid 2000’s.

Actually, the skim and the loophole and the ‘gaming’ of the stock market system, is nothing new at all. One researcher in the book, has found evidence of these issues since the very beginning. This newest version, happens to be exponentially quick and extraordinary lucrative.

Really, the author’s research and the people he writes about, detail a complex picture of fantastically intricate moving parts, BUT, it all boils down to morality. The book paints a picture of Brad Katsuyama, he notices a problem. He cannot let the problem go un-investigated. He is troubled as he finds wrongdoing, he fights against it. He is one man, against an army. He builds a team. He searches out others who see the injustice. He eventually takes it upon himself to reinvent a stock-market exchange. They try to build an ‘un-gamable’ system. A place where fairness is simply the goal, instead of making money for the insiders.

‘The system’ is something that crosses my mind all the time. I have always seemed to want to question the structures and rules and reasonings that ‘the world’ around me seems to live by. I often find myself interested by conspiracy theories or radical reinterpretations of seemingly concrete truths. I love it when science, or the Bible, can re-frame a sturdy and unquestioned idea, and show me another view behind the curtain.

Hardly ever though, do I remember myself intentionally working and striving and trying really hard, to ‘game the system.’  I see the deceit and exploitation and card tricks maneuvering pointed out in this book, as something that other people do, and I don’t.

I’m probably giving myself too much credit here. I am sure there are times that I have tried to work the least amount, and to get the most money. I didn’t find myself with billions of dollars… darn. But, I’m sure I have done it on some level.

I find my management moments at work, concerned about these very issues however. What is the nature the systems we’ve created? Do they create a balanced and fair environment for the guests who dine with us, for our team, for the business itself? Are the systems in place, fortuitous in a healthy way for everyone involved? Is someone ‘gaming our systems’?

I certainly can see the distrust in some customer’s eyes, as they may think we are attempting to ‘game’ them. Some may believe that our small family run business is an actual gold mine. They may feel ‘took’ and that we have overcharged them, given an cheap product, and we happily haul our rewards to the bank. Actually, these moments are quite few indeed. But the idea exists, that businesses are inherently bad or crooked or somehow stealing people’s money right out of their pockets.

I actually laugh at myself sometimes, for noticing the hilarity in that thought, as it relates to our little restaurant. So much effort, tons of time and money investment is required to maintain quality and excellence. The rewards are easier to count in smiles and appreciation than dollars at the end of the day. Satisfaction of a job well done, is the best reward, when we sometimes, get almost all of it, almost all right.

I am now re-awakened to the idea that ‘gaming a system’ is part of our humanity. Trying to squeeze out the most reward for the smallest risk, is just something that seems to reside somewhere in our consciousness. How much of that ‘gaming’ we partake in, or allow to exist in our own world, shows our personal boundary set-points.

The hero of the book, Flash Boys, is Brad, and he is little David, standing against Goliath’s bigger, uglier and wealthier brother. But stand and fight he does. He is trying against amazing odds, to do the right thing. We all have a Brad inside us. He isn’t gaming a system for personal gains, he’s rebuilding the system to level the field. His purpose is noble and whatever the eventual outcome, he can rest at night, knowing he used is energy to try and serve his fellow man in a profoundly fair way.

May I be richer for knowing that courage does exist; David’s rock-and-sling courage, in the modern world. May it well up in you too, from the deepest springs. We all have a Goliath in our life, the battle is before us every day. Godspeed my friends.

See you here next week 🙂


Aaron Nichols

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