The Prisoners Dilemma is a game that economists and social scientists play to measure the benefits of cooperation. When played by two people, the idea is that each will benefit if both of them cooperate with one another. If one cooperates and the other doesn’t, the one cooperating will lose and the one who doesn’t will gain. If neither co-operates, each will lose.
The game got its name from the following hypothetical situation: imagine two criminals arrested under the suspicion of having committed a crime together. The police, however, do not have enough evidence to convict them outright. The two prisoners are questioned separately and offered the same deal: if each confesses and implicates the other (neither cooperates with each other), both will go to prison for 10 years. If neither confesses (both cooperate), each will serve 1 year for carrying a concealed weapon. If one confesses and the other doesn’t, the one who confesses (doesn’t cooperate) will go free while the other (who cooperates) will go to prison for the maximum 20 year sentence.
Several points are raised: cooperation produces synergy; there is always a temptation not to cooperate and an incentive is required for cooperation.
In cooperation, people must believe that their goals are linked. As one person moves toward attainment of his or her goal, the others must also move toward reaching their goals. They must understand that the other’s goal attainment helps them: they must all be successful together. Striving to reach an individual goal is competition. In simple terms, competition is the opposite of cooperation.
In competition, people’s goals are not linked. One person’s successful goal attainment often makes others less likely to reach their goals. In a workgroup, members often feel competitive when they want to appear to the manager as the most effective and innovative member of the team. These people conclude that they are better off when others act ineffectively. They believe that they are less likely to succeed when others are more productive. They are often frustrated when someone else proposes a creative solution since they believe they will be less likely to reach their goal. The competitive environment does not produce synergy and can undermine relationships and effective work.
Competition is a zero-sum situation: what one person gains the other loses-the sum is zero.
Although we live in a competitive world, managers are slowly realising that cooperation produces the maximum benefit. But how does one achieve cooperation in a competitive world?
The critical factor is having the same goal or vision. Does this mean that everybody has to be the same? Certainly not. Cooperation thrives on diversity, provided there is interdependence. Open-minded, controversial discussion-constructive controversy-so that people can combine and integrate their ideas is needed. Opposing views are required to produce a cooperative situation and to enhance relationships.
Will conflict damage cooperation? No, it does not have to. Conflict is not the opposite of cooperation: it can assist in realising the benefits of working cooperatively.
Individuals must be able to develop and express their own ideas. As they present their perspectives on an issue or problem to others, they can deepen their understanding and widen their experience. As they question and understand the viewpoints of others, they see how their ideas can be built on. This is the foundation for innovation. Cooperative and not competitive goals, will induce the willingness to incorporate opposing views and reach agreement.
Cooperation has to be nurtured. Encouraging cooperative language, listening and thinking can do this. The “Six Hat Thinking” of de Bono is cooperative thinking: individual ideas are catered for in a climate of different cooperative settings. Aggressive disregard of ideas of others is competitive not co-operative.
Our country, our businesses and our people need to be more cooperative and less competitive. We need to have more cooperative goals and work at them in a cooperative manner. We must not get bogged down in conflicts but use them to enhance cooperation.