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game theory

Not really … I don’t know much about the actual discipline of game theory. But it’s about games, and it’s a theory, or rather, a revelation.

I spent some time this evening talking to my wife about management strategies, and the next time I talk to my son, I’ll probably ask him similar questions, since the two of them are the most skilled managers I know. The impetus for my queries came from a game, Football Manager … a demo for the upcoming version has been released. My wife knows little about managerial strategies in soccer (that’s the kind of football were talking about here), but she knows a lot about management in the real world, and Football Manager is in the genre of games known as simulations, more specifically sports management simulations. To the extent the game is good (and it is very good), the management situations it simulates will have some similarities to the kinds of situations my wife or son deal with.

So … and you can skip this paragraph, if you haven’t already quit reading … the situation I presented to my wife was this. You have a project. There is a baseline strategy that will get the job done and nothing else; there is a hypothetical optimal strategy that will get the job done in the most effective and elegant way; and there are all the strategies on the continuum between those two examples. On the team you are managing, you will have workers whose work is baseline, or even lower … you have workers who are effective, creative … and a lot of people on the continuum between those two examples.

What I wanted to know is, how close to you come to the optimal strategies, and how is your answer to that question affected by the kinds of workers you have. Is it worth it to ask poorer workers to aspire to heights they will struggle to reach? Do you stifle the better workers in search of the security of the baseline that gets the job done? Do you give different people different tasks depending on their skills, and if so, how does this affect teamwork?

Robin’s answers are not important to what I’m saying here, although they were interesting. If I’ve got it right, she thinks you challenge people to go a bit farther than their comfort zone, while understanding that some people, for good reasons, are just picking up a paycheck while others are obsessed with doing it all.

Of course, the reason I was asking her these questions was so I could apply them to Football Manager. In the game, to give one example, if you decide to begin by managing a lower-level club, you won’t have any upper-echelon players, and not many who could even be called average. You’ll have players good enough to play lower-level soccer. And you won’t have much money to spend on better players. Do you concoct brilliant strategies that come close to optimal, but which ask the lower-level players to do things they aren’t much good at, or do you go with simple strategies that allow the players you have to operate within the limits of what they already do well?

None of this is interesting, I realize, and I wouldn’t bother making this into a blog post, if it wasn’t for something I realized. Most people, I imagine, play games just for the enjoyment they bring. If there’s anything larger, it would come from someone learning things in the game that they find applies to real life, the way some will argue that chess is good for you because it helps you learn useful thinking stills.

But me? I was asking about real life, so it would help me in the game. The game is what matters, the game is the point … real life is just a strategy guide.

Yes, I think this is weird, i.e. I am weird.