Friday, 5 October 2007

Game Theory for a better planet

The Economist newspaper is a useful source of information for any consultant, trainer or business person. In our courses on negotiation we include some examples of Game theory - the idea that human interactions can be usefully considered as games, and that people's likely behaviours and strategies can then be anticipated without too much personal bias clouding our judgement. One of the most famous of these games is the Prisoner's dilemma, which is often attributed to John Nash, but actually originated with Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher at RAND.

The Economist article (linked above) reports a recent paper that suggests this can be used to break through the political Impasse associated with the Kyoto protocol. Basically it builds on the finding that people's behaviour changes depending on whether you are dealing with them on a one off basis, or repeatedly. The details are worth reading, but the proposal is fundamentally that instead of a long term agreement such as Kyoto we should have annual agreements, with sanctions for rich countries and incentives for poor countries - that makes it easier for rich governments to show progress without making a long term commitment, and allows countries to easily sign up later rather than opting out altogether.

Of course in an ideal world everyone would agree everything all at once - but this is not an ideal world. In business too we have to be careful of "all or nothing" deals when people may be more attracted to a "one step at a time" approach.

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