Alignment requires existential threats

People often use “Alignment” as a Suitcase Handle Word. When you look at alignment, especially in the organizational context, it boils down to “is keeping this relationship going holding off some existential threat?”

Through the lens of Finite and Infinite Games the only way for two entities playing different games to have the same goal is if one or both of the games would come to a crashing halt if the goal was not met. ie. The goal addresses an existential threat.

Of course, “existential threat” is an extreme term that means different things for different entities. In this context one could think of it as something that could end something you really do not want to end. For companies it could be an important revenue stream, or the business itself. For a person it could be your life or just the trajectory of your career. Clearly, what is existential is relative and there’s a continuum of importance in the threats.

While it’s abstract, I find this concept useful because it allows you to roughly analyze ‘how aligned’ two entities are and have blunt conversations about it.

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