The first rule of the game

“All players must agree to not cheat.”

It’s simply too difficult to enumerate all the rules necessary to engage with people who don’t have goodwill about the process. If you want to cheat, you’ll figure out how to cheat.

When all the players enroll in the spirit of the game, the game works. No matter what the game is.

Cultures and industries change. They often embrace the idea of fairness and a mutual respect for agreed-upon rules. But, over time, the spirit of the game can fade–and it incurs a cost on all the participants, because it’s difficult to move forward if you’re not sure what the rules actually are.

As the stakes have risen in marketplaces–of ideas, of commerce, of governance–it’s become more acceptable to play to win while cheating. To buy a slot on a bestseller list, to coerce or to collude, or to rig an outcome of one sort or another.

No one wants to be hustled.

Breaking the first rule ensures that the rest of the systems will be under great stress. Let’s play or let’s not play. But cheaters aren’t welcome.