Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Thanks to the wonderful Root Blog for reminding me of this great sculptural instrument made by some old friends, Cameron Mesirow and Tauba Auerbach. A wonderful example of how design can functionally include Win-Win.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How much Win?

Here's a question....

For a game to be Win-Win does it have to be fair?

Does everyone have to win equally or can some people win more than others?

What's gotten me thinking about this is a conversation I recently read in Tamler Sommers' new book, "A Very Bad Wizard: Morality Behind the Curtain". Specifically it involves a a conversation between Sommers and anthropologist Joseph Henrich who conducted some unprecedented cross-discipline game playing with the Machiguenga people of the Peruvian Amazon. Henrich brought what's known in behavioral economics as the "Ultimatum Game" to a small isolated village in South America in the hopes of proving a universal character to morality in human beings.

The "Ultimatum Game" is played this way:
Two players interact to decide how to divide a sum of money that is given to them. The first player proposes how to divide the sum between the two players, and the second player can either accept or reject this proposal. If the second player rejects, neither player receives anything. If the second player accepts, the money is split according to the proposal. The game is played only once so that reciprocation is not an issue.

or try this out ...

What's interesting, if not jaw-droppingly amazing, is that the vast majority of people who make the proposal offer a near 50/50 split. Even though one would presume that in our dog-eat-dog capitalist world, aka North America, everyone would try to their hardest to test the limits of what they could get away with, acting in their perceived self-interest, assuming that the other participant will do the same. A dollar is a dollar, even if the other jerk is walking away with $19. Yet time and again, most offers made in the wilds of the North American University lab were to split the kitty even.

Now fly with me to the tangled jungles of Peru and the shocking discovery that among the Machiguenga people those splits were quite different. In fact they hover closer to 15% as opposed to the 45-50% split up North. The people participating in the Amazonian version of the game felt little or no resentment towards the other participant either, generally seeing them as just lucky given the circumstances.

I wont get into the explanation for this phenomena that Henrich offers, or the philosophical implications in regards to morality, as these are dealt with much better in the book. What I want to discuss is the question of what "fairness" means in the context and what exactly is the effect of an uneven split on a Win-Win game. In other words, just how much does everyone have to win for it to be a Win-Win game?