Timeframe Shift

Are you familiar with game theory? It is a field of studying that looks at “strategic decision making.” Whatever that means.

The classic example is something called “The Prisoner's Dilemma.” The set up is you and a partner - Joe - are both arrested for a crime. You have the choice to either confess or stay silent, Joe has the same options.

If you and Joe both confess each will go to prison for 2 years. If one confesses and the other remains silent then the confessor will be rewarded with no prison time and the silent will serve 3 years. If both are quiet than 1 year each. This is the most famous and simplest form of game theory. The brains who come up with these scenarios explore everything from two party games to those requiring differential equations.

Without getting lost in the details, I was able to pull out one practical lesson. There is a drastic difference between single-round play and multi-round play.

Examples of single-round play are buying a house or a hamburger. You engage with someone you don’t know or don’t care to know, and do your best to get your maximum value. No problem, this is a good and noble way to play in single-round play.

Multi-round play is about maximizing value over the total of all the rounds. An example is negotiations with a Venture Capitalist or a vital vendor. The negotiation may seem like a single event which ultimately leads to a contract and money going from one bank account to another. However, if either side is too pushy, negotiates in bad faith, or ends up getting too favorable of terms, then the likelihood of success (e.g. the company growing and selling for more, the vendor and client selling a lot more product...whatever) is actually lowered. If you keep a multi-round timeframe in mind you might get less during the specific negotiations but more over the long haul. 100% x$1 = 1, 80% x $1,000 = 800.

Finally! I have a field of study that teaches the lesson my mother instilled in me from ages past. No matter how much you like the person who is in front of you, remember that a happy customer will tell 3 people about you over 2 weeks, an angry customer 10 people over 10 months.

I frequently find that people do not realize they are in the middle of a multi-round game and so don’t act properly. My favorite example comes with attorneys who go from real estate or litigation into general business work and contract negotiations. In a lawsuit there is a single, end deal, that is the ultimate goal of success. This becomes the frame of mind for that kind of lawyer. They need a ‘timeframe shift’ in order to maximize their client’s results.

The benefits of using a multi-round attitude can be seen at the the Vail Leadership Institute’s co-working space in Avon, where I work. There is a diversity of people who work there, including other business consultants and attorneys. Technically we are direct competitors. However, since we believe in growing the strength of this community, enjoying our working environment, and that our businesses will grow based on reputation, we treat each other with more than respect. We are confidants and mentors (one of which edited this editorial). We are in a community of multi-round players.

At the core, there is a timeframe shift between single and multi-round play.  

From this realization I have begun to ask myself what the appropriate time frame is for all activities I’m engaged in. Nothing wrong with being focused on the task at hand, as long as that focus is not sacrificing the future.

But hey, what do I know?