28 July 2015

Trust and Other Elements of Collaboration




In the previous post, I examined through a parable comparing two different kinds of group decision making strategies: (1) "freely" throwing out suggestions, vs (2) veto-or-not the other group member's choice.

From that, we talked about communication in terms of information content and how it affects whether we can really get to know a person better (as a friend, let's say) in what is a repeated game (as in game theory, or micro-economics).

Now, we can also talk about what it means to collaborate, not just cooperate, but arrive at decisions via collaboration.  That's what we'll talk about presently.

See, both strategies above can be cooperative.  In fact, the veto-or-not strategy could be seen as an extreme form of cooperation via deferring totally to the other party unless the choice picked is just too far outside the bounds of one's bare minimum acceptability.

Though it's cooperative, it really is another classic example of what non-collaboration looks like.  The party who engages in veto-or-not behaviour is purposefully, even if unintentionally due to ignorance, withholding information from the other parties.  That was clear in the previous post's parable where we saw how veto-or-not communicates exactly one bit of information, a true vs false, or 1 vs 0, etc.


Someone who engages in that kind of veto-or-not behaviour is clearly not working efficiently with the rest of the group towards achieving a better Pareto solution to what is a repeated cooperative non-zero-sum game amongst friends or colleagues.  It's not working efficiently together because there is information that can help achieve a better Pareto solution, but she just doesn't want to volunteer it, instead demanding the other group members to tease it out from her.

Again, turning to look at Patrick and Sally:  if Patrick wants to understand who Sally is as a person via what she likes, wants, or is inclined towards, Patrick has to keep probing and testing her by offering different choices to see what she would veto or not.  Whatever information Patrick gathers that way has to later factor into his future decisions, and makes it incumbent on Patrick to figure out what would make a better Pareto outcome. If Patrick didn't care for a better Pareto outcome, he could just lazily keep picking whatever choices satisfices him that she hasn't veto'ed, but that pretty likely guarantees a lower collective payoff in this game of choices --- although it'd cost him less work to find this lower paying stable equilibrium.

Now, as it is a game (as in game theory, or in micro-economics), we can assume she knows the same as above.  Meaning she is intentionally making Patrick shoulder all the costs of finding a satisficing Pareto outcome, let alone a better Pareto outcome.  That is obviously an unfair distribution of work in a group, and is thus obviously non-collaborative!

If she was collaborative, the group would have an easier time finding a better Pareto outcome. She'd offer suggestions of what movies to watch, thus revealing her preferences.  Vice versa for Patrick (and any other group members).  They'd all create a multi-dimensional map of those suggestions for each other, as described in the previous post's parable, and thus find out what clusters of choices are preferred more than others for each other.

And by knowing each other's preferences, Patrick and Sally can cooperatively choose choices that maximizes each of their own preferences as well as the others'.  That may involve choosing choices that on a turn by turn bases over time (in this repeated game) will average out to a higher collective payoff, for example.  There are many other strategies that works, well covered in textbooks, and are easy to find in everyday life in an ad hoc fashion.

The moral shown in the story here is that collaboration requires volunteering information about one's own true preferences, and a willingness to hear out other people's preferences without judgement (or risk turning them off from volunteering such information in the future).  Then it requires a willingness to make choices that provides a higher collective payoff even if it means trusting that no one will deviate or defect from the agreed upon choice, even when someone deviating from the agreed upon choice would net that person a higher personal payoff at the cost of everyone else. The risk of defection is why this game requires trust, meaning collaboration cannot happen without it.

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