Everything can be constructed into a model and one of the best I’ve come across on Organizational Behavior is from a book written in the late 1970’s called The Gamesman. The title alone feels dated but the simple archetypes for how people act is valuable nonetheless.

The book states that, within the organization, there are four types of people:

  1. Gamesman – a member who views interactions as a game and does what it takes to win within the context of the game.
  2. Company man – someone who assumes the persona of those around him, engages in strategies based on what others adopt in the same environment.
  3. Jungle Fighters – someone who gets ahead by eliminating competitors.
  4. Craftsman – a person who participates largely on their own terms, defining success in ways that aren’t necessarily compatible with the original purpose of the game.

That’s four distinct, discrete boxes to categorize everyone in the workplace. I’ve personally encountered every type and have a good sense of where I really fit. But it changes. In fact, day to day, we can inhabit each of these categories because the four archetypes represent strategies more so than people.

Game Theory helps to model situations and depersonalize the circumstances so that you can think clearly. It’s a higher form of empathy where you understand that your fellow “players” are in the same boat as you, playing on the same board. As managers, we have to ask ourselves what strategies we will reward within these games. Especially when it comes to the Four Archetypes.  

Imagine a situation where a new, prestigious position is posted in the organization. It’s a C-suite, executive level post that is highly coveted by many within the group. The chief executive is making the hire and she is posting it internally. Four internal candidates emerge very quickly. Each represent one of the archetypes.

It’s a non-cooperative, winner-take-all, game with four distinct strategies.

Without getting into a lot of math, which can be very useful for more formal models, let’s just extrapolate from the information we have. Each of the four archetypes will compete for the job in different ways. The chief executive will probably hire based on which strategy she values the most. Often, the strategy we value is the one that we would also employ. So here’s how the archetypes play the game:

  1. The Gamesman will build a case based on how many customers he’s gained, sales he’s made, and how he has brought the company closer to its goals.
  2. The Jungle Fighter will communicate how he stands out above the other four candidates; he’ll demonstrate the flaws of the other candidates and talk about how superior he is without really showing why. He doesn’t have to. He can be very persuasive without any proof.  
  3. The Craftsman will spend his energy demonstrating how he and his team has built the best quality, set the industry standard, and he’ll let that quality work “speak for itself”.
  4. The Company Man will observe everyone else’s strategies and adopt some mix that he thinks will appeal most to the chief executive.  

What’s the winning strategy? Which one does the chief executive hire? It depends on a lot of factors and no single choice is inherently wrong. The beauty of strategy in games is that you can see many viable paths to the goal and you cleanly demonstrate values, ethics, and culture by studying which of the paths is ultimately chosen.

That part is really important. Too many times, we see different styles and declare one as inferior to the other. It’s like saying rap music is inferior to country music.

When I read about the archetypes in this week’s book, where it is brilliantly applied to Game Theory, my first inclination was to dislike Jungle Fighters. They’re the people who gossip, cut others down, and spread negativity. Right? Maybe. But they’re also the people who, if given autonomy and an outward focus, will make sure that their team wins the external competition. The Company Man? At their best, this person represents a powerful mix of loyalty and flexibility that every organization needs.

The point is that this model of this game informs how other games are played. An executive making an internal promotion? Everyone watches to see what gets valued. Where is the incentive? What is the dominant strategy? How do we play the game?

It’s hard to answer that last question without a model. This one, the Four Archetypes, helps a lot.

Photo of Hungry Hungry Hippos from David Goehring‘s Flickr.