Monday, December 17, 2007

The Prisoner of Dilemma?

Fig.: Payoff Table for the Mugging Game

To anyone who has been through the Relative Grading system (referred to rather fondly, one would think, as RG), the resonance with Prisoner's Dilemma is unavoidable. Therefore, one becomes a Prisoner of Dilemma and starts mugging.

Of course, an important condition here is that the reward (which I have rather "nicely" depicted in that wad of notes picture) must be something that both the players treasure a lot. If the reward is not so compelling, then people would just give up. Let me refine that. If the players don't see a direct connection between the reward and effort, then they would give up easily.

Of course, the pundits are most probably going to tut-tut this and point out in a shocked whisper, the cavalier manner in which I am generalizing a two player game to multi player situations. I frankly have no idea about the results in the multi player case. But still, I think it touches a chord and I shall leave it!

And this blog was meant as a continuation of the crib about mugging in my previous blog. For all this high falutin stuff, the end result is that reality has not changed one bit. Understanding it, somehow, somehow, makes me feel good, though for what end, I know not.

(PS1: Credit to Anuj Pradhan who talked about this after the Economics Exam)
(PS2: "Prisoner of Dilemma" is such a nice title for a prospective song/poem. Cool! I now have a kickass title, about the poem...)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Random Thoughts

----> Mostly Boring <-----

Yep, the title says it all. I have to be preparing for some test of some x weightage of some y component for some z subject. Feeling very very "been there, done that." But that tiny voice of reason in my head sayeth, "Hark, you young fool! All this bluster serves no end. Study, my child. One day, one day, you will realize the fruits of all this. " Ah, don't I just love Reason!


:::::: Shaving Myths::::::

Let me tell you a story. Long long ago, a man named T- got pained with having to shave. He just didn't see the point. As was the norm in those days, he went into a long long penance to take this grievance to God, the Big G, the Maker... you get the picture.

After looooong years of penance, a floating figure comes in front of T- and says:

Floating Figure: Excoos me! I believe you have long been in penance. I am God...

T-: (In orgasmic bliss) Ooooooh God! How happy I am that you have decided to hear the pleadings of a most humble...

God's PR Manager: Stop talking rot. I am God's PR Manager.

T-: (Perplexed) Why hasn't He come?

GPR: You have been in penance for far too long. The good old days of meeting God by penance is gone. Now you have to forward stuff through me. He has to be in many charity dinners at the same time. Anyway... you cut to the chase, I am on call holding.

T-: But isn't He omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient etc etc?

GPR: (grinning) Umm... No. Neat marketing trick actually...

T-: Anyway, my request is... I want Him to grant me the boon of not having to shave... EVER

GPR: (Short Pause) No.. can't do.

T-: No? What kind of an answer is that? In all the myths, He always accepts even if it is the darndest stupidest suggestion in the world!

GPR: That is why they are called myths. Besides, I receive huge donations from the shaving lobby.

T-: But why does He need money?

GPR: Oh... how do you think we get all the gas to make the clouds in heaven? Plus inter-dimensional transport costs quite a bit... throw in all those gold ornaments everyone in heaven wears... it is quite costly you know.

T-: So... my effort was in vain! Cannot be...

GPR: Okay okay... You could turn into a PR disaster. How about... (idea) you start a shaving salon? The business opportunity is this: there will be others like you who do not want to shave. You shave them for a charge. It is a neat business if you think about it. The only business immune to Fed interest rate changes. I mean... irrespective of economic condition, hair will grow!

T-: Yes! I see the light!

GPR: Phew! That is one more loony satisfied!

Thus was born the first shaving salon!



Yesterday (Friday) was one of those days when I regretted getting out of bed. No point getting into details, suffice to say that it was like those "My Unlucky Day" level essays one writes in school where everything goes wrong. Today, in contrast, was awesome. Nice bright sunny day with just that right nip in the air. Finished all my errands and went to the library to read the paper. Chanced upon the Harvard Business Review and sat down to read it. Quite engrossing and more importantly for a publication of such repute, the language is refreshingly… simple and straightforward. However, after reading a few articles I was left with the following question. How much of Management is really science and can be captured in "scientific terms"? The frameworks that abound in HBR are derived from contextual phenomena and I guess they make sense till the contextual assumptions hold. After a point however, the frameworks get intellectually tedious and I am quite skeptical of their usefulness as predictive tools. Of course, maybe frameworks are rarely meant to be predictive tools.

I personally believe that the key is to first define or understand the objective. The world is quite complex, meaning there are too many stochastic variables to deal with and defining an objective in a way simplifies the problem. Maximizing profit or Maximizing shareholder value are simplifications for example. But I feel these are fairly outdated objectives. A more contemporary objective may be something like maximizing profit as well as employee fun. Or something like Maximizing Profit through Innovation. The problem is that these expressions cannot be modeled in mathematical terms. My point is... who needs mathematics here.

Then am I implying that formal management education is pointless? Not one bit. I am sure it serves its purpose as a record of past business experience. It is just that when people start deriving "formulae" and start making "scientific predictions" based on non-scientific methods, then I get skeptical.