Boss/Employee is not Exactly a Prisoners' Dilemma
But close enough to be useful...
To recap, in this post I made the analogy between power-differentiated relationships in the workplace (like manager/report) & the Prisoners’ Dilemma. I was making the point that when the relatively more powerful member of the pair takes responsibility (accepts consequences they could have avoided because of their power), this signals to the less powerful member that it is safe for them to continue cooperating.
Several astute readers pointed out that Prisoners’ Dilemma is not a perfect match for a manager/report relationship.
Prisoners’ Dilemma initially was a one-time game (it was later extended to repeated trials). Manager/report is an open-ended, long-term relationship.
Prisoners’ Dilemma doesn’t allow signaling or negotiation. Manager/report certainly does.
Prisoners’ Dilemma has fixed & known payouts. Manager/report has fuzzy, long-term payouts.
I agree with the above. PD is not a great analogy for the manager/report relationship. However, it helps illustrate the 2 points I made:
Both manager & report chose their strategy. Powerful people tend to forget this. If, as a manager, you want to stay in the top left quadrant where everybody get their needs met as much as possible, not only do you need to choose your strategy to cooperate you also need to signal that cooperation is in the report’s best interest.
Responsibility, or “consequences flow towards power”, is a time honored way to signal the safety of cooperation to the less powerful.
I am not an expert on game theory, having only dabbled in it since college. However, that’s a lot of years of dabbling. Analogical thinking cuts, for good or ill. The Prisoners’ Dilemma analogy illustrated my points, especially #2 above, which was the recent insight I was trying to get across. Interestingly, none of the Hacker News brain trust disagreed with my points, just with my argumentation. It’s a fair critique, but I hope they didn’t miss the actual lesson.
I believe the Pavlov Strategy is the most ideal option when considering our behavioral evolution. If I get the prize, I'll continue to cooperate.
Thank you for the article!
Hey Kent - some great new ideas there around the Prisoners Dilemma. II wonder if this implies that something like the tit-for-two-tats strategy is relevant to management techniques? Also, if you haven’t already looked at the work of Axelrod, he may have some fun things to stir into your new ideas. Cheers!