Game Theory, Secret Unions, Collusion and Conspiracy
One of the fun aspects of game theory is finding unique strategies for winning in a competitive arena.
Imagine that five people have just been hired by a large company. Before they show up for their first day of work they all agree on a secret pact of mutual cooperation designed to achieve the greatest possible promotions and raises for each member of the group. The specific strategy they will follow is for each member to always praise and talk up the other four whenever possible. Unlike self-praise, this strategy has more credibility because the praise originates outside the person being praised.
Because this group sticks with their secret pact they start getting more promotions than average. As the conspirators rise in rank their credibility will grow and further enhance the effectiveness of their strategy.
The founder of Game Theory, John von Neumann, would identify this as an example of limited cooperation in the context of a larger competitive struggle (a "zero sum game" where only one person gets the promotion). It's clear that the group of conspirators cannot be too large. If all employees belong then advantage is negated in the struggle for scarce promotions. Also, if they are caught then their strategy will fail.
Obviously this strategy represents a type of fraud perpetrated against both the company and other innocent employees who are not part of the pact.
If you believe the strategy of these five hypothetical conspirators is sleazy and unethical then ask yourself how, IN PRINCIPLE, the situation would differ if there were only 4 collusionists instead of 5?
3 instead of 4?
2 instead of 3?
How about 1 instead of 2?
My own counter-strategy is simpler and is based on the belief that the best people working for the best companies will not need to resort to heavy duty life support for their careers. I think the best way to advance your career is to perpetrate consistent and flagrant demonstrations of competence and skill that embarrass superiors because they haven't yet promoted you.
Master whatever work you do, and make that mastery obvious. This should be enough if your employer is competent enough to perceive competence. And if your employer is not competent in this respect find one that is. Even the blind can feel the sun on their faces and know what part of the sky it is in. A company that fails to acknowledge and promote talent is a company that has been fired by talent.
Certified Public Accountant Master of Business Administration
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