Game theory is a concept that has been around for decades, but its application to real-world scenarios is still relatively new. In his book “Leaders Eat Last,” Simon Sinek explores how game theory can teach us about war and conflict.

The Basics of Game Theory

Game theory is a mathematical approach to decision-making that examines the interactions between multiple individuals or groups. It seeks to understand how these interactions can lead to cooperation or conflict, and what strategies are most effective in achieving one’s goals.

Zero-Sum Games

One of the most basic concepts in game theory is the zero-sum game. In this scenario, there are only winners and losers – any gains made by one player come at the expense of another. This type of game is often seen in sports or gambling, where one person’s victory means another’s defeat.

Non-Zero-Sum Games

Non-zero-sum games, on the other hand, allow for more than one winner. These games require cooperation between players in order to achieve mutual benefits. This type of game is often seen in business negotiations or international diplomacy.

Applying Game Theory to War

When it comes to war, game theory can teach us a lot about strategy and decision-making. Sinek argues that many leaders approach war as a zero-sum game – they believe that victory can only be achieved by defeating the enemy completely.

However, Sinek suggests that a non-zero-sum approach may be more effective. In this scenario, both sides work together to create a solution that benefits everyone involved. This type of approach requires empathy and understanding from both sides.

The Importance of Empathy

Empathy plays a crucial role in non-zero-sum games. It allows individuals to understand the perspectives and motivations of others, which can help them find common ground and work towards a solution that benefits everyone.

In the context of war, empathy can help leaders understand the motivations of their enemies and find ways to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence. It can also help leaders understand the needs and concerns of their own troops, which can lead to better decision-making and more effective strategies.

Creating a Culture of Trust

Another key element of non-zero-sum games is trust. In order for cooperation to occur, there must be a level of trust between the players involved. This requires leaders to create a culture of trust within their own organizations, as well as between their organization and others.

By focusing on empathy and trust, leaders can create an environment that encourages cooperation and mutual benefit. This approach may not always result in victory in the traditional sense, but it can lead to long-term stability and improved relationships between nations.


Game theory provides valuable insights into how individuals and groups interact with each other. When applied to war and conflict, it can help us understand how empathy and trust can be used to create solutions that benefit everyone involved.

As Simon Sinek suggests in “Leaders Eat Last,” approaching war as a non-zero-sum game may be more effective than traditional zero-sum thinking. By focusing on cooperation rather than competition, we can create a more stable and peaceful world for future generations.