The Polak Game: an exercise to help reveal your theories of the future

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Since I have one foot firmly planted in each quadrant (don’t try that at home), I guess that makes me a centrist, on this chart. I suspect my full plot would be extremely spikey vs. spherical, however, as I typically have differing levels of optimism on an issue by issue basis. I would assume that those who do much critical thinking would tend to be less focused than the indoctrinated, who cede much of their thinking to others and follow a more scripted world view.


Maybe I’m just too postmodern, but I feel like this dichotomy (or dichotomy squared, as the case may be) is not a real one.

When asked to choose whether the world is getting better or worse, my reaction is: neither and both. The world is getting weirder, and that’s as much as we can say.

When asked to decide if we have power over to create the future or whether it’s a thing that will happen to us, my reaction is similarly “both”, it depends on the systemic vantage point. We’re both actors and acted-upon. No matter how influential we are, our future is ultimately determined by forces beyond our control, but inversely no matter how minuscule our place in vast systems is, we all have the potential to have a massive effect on it. The black plague started with a single virus, after all.

I guess maybe the point of the piece is that regardless of our personal views, societies always tend toward one of these four simplified outlooks. But I’m not convinced that’s inevitable - for example many indigenous societies were centered around balance/equilibrium as opposed to history/progress. They did not think that the world was getting better or worse on a macro scale, because they understood the world as a constant dynamic system which maintained its own stability through periodic fluctuations that always counteracted or compensated for each other.

The problem may not be which quadrant of the grid we fall into, but that we’re stuck on a grid at all.


Why was it called the “Polak” game? Was “Wop” or “Mic” or “Kraut” or other derogatory term already taken?

Because that was the creator’s name


How did I miss that when skimming it? Thought it might be an acronym.

Polak is the polish name for a pole, It’s no more derogatory, then Mexican.

It was probably named the Polak game, as the polish where the first nation to be invaded by the Nazi’s, and there for likely a group of people who where considering the state of the world, and how it was changing.

Lower left checking in

I do wonder though, because I feel like things get worse and I can’t do anything about it, but I hope that’s not the case and either attempt to enact change, encourage others to do so, or try to stay out of their way and not put a damper on calls to action. It kinda feels like when you look in the fridge repeatedly knowing full well there’s nothing in there. You aren’t surprised or sad to find nothing, because that’s what you knew was in there … but then you look in it again five minutes later.

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The only quibble I have is that we are too general here. Sometimes we can change things, sometimes we can’t. Some things are getting better, some aren’t.

  • Is something to the left? Then move on to the next thing.
  • If something is upper right, put it in the backlog, get to it when you can.
  • It’s the stuff in the lower right that needs attention, so take care of it now.

Everything else is just details.


Looks a bit Myers-Briggsy to me - and that was even before the section describing using it with groups of managers…

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When deployed in an organisation the dynamics of the game can get very interesting. Once I worked with an executive group who all huddled in the UR, almost competing to be furthest into that optimistic-optimistic quadrant. As if channelling the UL’s critique, I asked: “How do you know you are not deluded?” When a group of decision-makers cluster in the UR, you can ask, “Where are your staff standing?” “Where are your customers?” The realisation may start to dawn that others are not necessarily energised by the same image of the future.

So… I could not help linking that picture with the notion that corporations are essentially AI, as advocated by C.D., but also Charles Stross recently at 34C3

… and what I get is the picture of just another human/machine wetworkertranslation issues social worker, selling us out by breaking down another social / psychological human concept for optimization and monetization by our super human overlords.

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Call a Pole a Polak (or Polack, or other bastardized spellings) and see how your day goes.

Yes, it can also be a surname. Context is important, but me skipping over the name of the guy who created it made one wonder if this was some sort of a jab.

Fun fact, if you do want to tell a Polack joke to a Pole, just change it to a Russian.

An interesting little idea, and it’s possibly quite useful for generating ideas and opinions about possible future states of the world for storytelling. But in the article it comes from, the whole game seems to be very tied up in a futile attempt to deny the concept of progress and excise it from the lexicon. Fortunately, people immediately using the game immediately bring us back to it.

I once asked a Polish friend of mine if she knew and good Polish jokes and got a dirty look, “no. . . I mean. . . jokes that Poles tell each other!

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You’d think this quadrant stuff would the dead but it seems to be the favorite way for psychologists, sociologists et al to try organize the randomness of humanity. My reaction is always down the lines of, wait I know lots of optimistic leftists and pessimistic rightists.

Surely it’s situational. You can’t apply the same approach to everything.

Someone has to mention that this is very similar to the 1st and 2nd circuit diagram used by Robert Anton Wilson in Prometheus Rising and other texts, based on Tim Leary’s model. Wilson’s core example has strength / weakness on one axis and friendly / hostile on the other, but he maps it to all manner of other models (e.g. Transactional Analysis using I’m OK / You’re OK and their opposites) and literary / cultural examples. Well worth everyone’s time checking this stuff out, and surely part of the fundamental BB fabric.

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Serenity prayer ftw.

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I agree with this, a lot, until the last sentence. Well, I agree we have the potential to massively affect the larger system, but I think that’s very rare; much more likely is an individual able to have a great effect on their own small local system. Which is something I wish people focused more on. People seem to spend the most energy worrying about the stuff they have the least ability to affect, at least when it comes to politics.

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