Game Theory

There’s a really strong undercurrent in business and creativity (see intellectual property and patents for further details) that dictates that we should hold our work very close to our chests and let others work things out for themselves. This is part of game theory. Let me explain.

This is a very simple explanation but I think it illustrates game theory, and the myriad ways in which it affects the world: two ‘players’ are sat opposite one another. Each is given a green paddle and a red paddle. The game is played by both players showing a paddle to the other on each turn. Every time both players show a green paddle they each get one point and the game continues. If one player shows a red paddle and the other a green paddle, the red paddle player gets 100 points and the game ends.

The game begins and both players show green paddles over 50 successive rounds winning themselves 50 points apiece. On the 51st round, one player shows a red paddle, wins 100 points and the game ends. The red paddle player has 150 points to the green paddle player’s 50. The red paddle player ‘won’.

In a subsequent debrief the players are asked about their decision making process. The red paddle player says something along the line of “Ha! I won! That loser was just playing green paddles and I brought out the red paddle and I won! Ner-ne-ner-ne-ner-ner” When both players are asked how long the game was scheduled to go on they both answered along these line “Err, well I don’t know, we were never told.” So the game had no time limit. Interesting. That means that each player could have played green paddles indefinitely, winning unlimited points, but one player ended it prematurely in the name of winning against his opponent.

What has this got to do with you? The above game is life. The businessman who keeps all he knows to himself ‘wins’ but doesn’t make his industry better. The artist who doesn’t share his skills ‘wins’ but doesn’t raise the bar and is less likely to be the recipient of others’ advice. Donald Trump believes that the US is losing if others are winning when actually it’s better for everyone to be part of a better-off whole than be richer compared with others.

Share everything you know and raise the bar. See competition as something to help you improve not simply someone to be beaten.

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