The ‘Play to Win’ Mindset and Mu

One night last week at dinner my oldest son asked me the following question:

“If you could live in a mansion by yourself or be homeless with Mom, which would you choose?”

I understood the point of his question: to test how I value companionship compared to material comfort. That’s a fairly deep thought for a thirteen year old, so in general I was happy with his question.

He was not so happy with my answer though.

“Mu”, I replied, and took another bite of my wife’s tasty cooking.

“Whuuuut?” he replied, looking at me like I had three heads. “What the heck does that mean?”

The discussion devolved a bit from there, as you can imagine that a deep, philosophical conversation over dinner might, so I’ll spare you the details. But the idea of mu is a useful and important one, and one that in my opinion doesn't get enough attention.

The idea of mu is simple. It comes from the Japanese symbol meaning “without”, and in a philosophical sense it means that your question is invalid. For my fellow math and computer geeks out there, it’s a little bit like the idea of null - the answer is empty.

One easy (and somewhat humorous) example of a question where mu makes a good answer is the old joke “When did you stop beating your wife?” Neither “yes” nor “no” is correct, assuming you've never beaten your wife anyway. But therein lies the power of mu - it gives you the option to say “there is no answer - change the question”.

I apply the mu concept to decisions where I don’t like the available options, like the one my son posed at dinner. I would prefer to have both my wife and a nice house to live in, thank you very much, so if faced with such a decision I would refuse to accept the available choices. This is an important part of the “play to win” idea discussed in Only Read the Fine Print; while I may not be able to have both right away, I would rather work to have both than accept only one or the other.

Too often we fall into that trap - we assume that the obvious choices are the only ones available, and we settle for the best of those. Usually there’s a way to create a better outcome if you’re willing to think creatively and do a little work though. So don’t settle for the least bad option - bust out a mu and demand more from the world.

P.S. I would totally pick you honey, don’t worry.