By now it’s clear that anyone who follows my blog knows I am passionate about win-win thinking. Today’s blog is a history lesson in playing nice. Radiolab recently featured a fantastic podcast titled “One Good Deed Deserves Another” that showcases Robert Axelrod’s famous findings about the prisoner’s dilemma. The podcast is a highly entertaining history lesson in some of the science and mathematics of why it is better to play nice.
Axelrod’s computer simulation competition demonstrated what has become known as the The Prisoner’s Dilemma. The prisoner’s dilemma scenario is a problem in game theory that examines the advantages and disadvantages of cooperation. Using giant computers that filled rooms back in the early 1960s, Axelrod showed the answer is elegant and simple – it’s better to play nice and cooperate. Axelrod, the Walgreen Professor for the Study of Human Understanding at the University of Michigan, eventually wrote a book about his findings, The Evolution of Cooperation (1984), which popularized the study of cooperation.
The Radiolab segment also refers to an amazing, if brief, example of cooperation during World War I. In 1914 soldiers for the Allies noticed that a lull in the fighting from the trenches by the Germans usually occurred around breakfast time. A sort of unwritten rule developed that both sides would refrain from battle at that time. Even more amazing this cooperative spirit eventually developed to the extent that along certain areas of the Western Front both sides would have an unofficial truce on holidays like Christmas and actually celebrate them together in no man’s land. Even in an extreme wartime case both sides found that a timeout to rest, eat and recuperate was mutually beneficial. Of course the generals eventually put an end to “fraternization with the enemy.”
But the lesson from the war and Axelrod’s work on the prisoner’s dilemma has a valuable lesson for managers — that playing nice can trump the human tendency towards selfish behavior. Axelrod’s pioneering work showed it can pay to be nice.
Taking the Vested Outsourcing approach to business relationships lays a foundation of collaboration and playing nice by developing a what’s in it for we (WIIFWe) mind-set and a focus on mutual recognition of Desired Outcomes through the application of the Five Rules.
I recommend that you give the “One Good Deed Deserves Another” podcast a listen, it’s 25 well-spent minutes.