I always hated birds and thought that people that owned them as pets must be disturbed in some way.
I really had no intention of studying them until I met the professor who would give me an entirely different perspective—we’ll call her Barrett. And she was definitely a hawk. I loved her for it. She had fought her way through all the stereotypes about women and science to be at the top of her game as a full professor at a well respected research university. She somehow managed a gentle nurturing motherly side with all the ferocity and keenness attributed to the best birds of prey.
It was during her course that I was first introduced to game theory: a study of conflict and cooperation often relegated to economics and political science. The primary use of game theory is to model how an individual should behave in a given situation to maximize their personal benefit. That benefit could be something tangible like money or a raise. In other cases the benefit may be more abstract such as power, or even achieving the attention of a lover, as Russell Crowe’s character depicted during a famous scene in the biotopic A Beautiful Mind.
The setup is this:
Russell Crowe (by the way, how awesome is it that his name is Crowe? Fits in so nicely with the whole theme), who’s playing the mathematical modeling genius John Nash, is out in a bar with male colleagues. A beautiful blonde walks into the setup accompanied by several, not unattractive, brunettes. The camera zooms to Nash who is obviously transfixed by the beauty of the blonde. Seemingly oblivious to the comments of his male counterparts who have all also taken notice of this gorgeous blonde, Nash is working through an idea that will ultimately become known as the Nash Equilibrium.
The dilemma is that if each of the guys acts individually in his best interest, they will all compete for the blonde, block one another and ultimately no one will get the girl. Besides this, the brunettes will no longer be interested in any of the men as they will perceive their initial rejection negatively and won’t want to be seen as a “second choice.” The every-man-for-himself strategy will prevent anyone from landing the “ideal” blonde and further prevent any second best options. However, should none of them behave individualistically and instead cooperatively all go for the brunettes, all of the men will have dates and overall a greater good is achieved for everyone individually.
So what the hell does any of this have to do with business? I started this blog series with the line: “No crows go into business. Business is a game for hawks.”
So the fundamental question here is, what happens when all the hawks within a company (represented by Nash and the boys in the context above) compete individualistically (i.e. go for the blonde)?
I’ll follow up with some insight on this in the next post.