Game theory offers its practitioners a series of questions they can ask themselves to model a decision or outcome, whether it relates to someone's career or an election. Because game theory emphasizes thought and logic, it seems suited to the mathematical, analytical minds of IT professionals.
In this Q&A, Bennett explains how game theory can be applied to career management, how it can give job seekers an edge in today's competitive job market, and how it can help professionals rebound from-if not avoid-career setbacks such as layoffs.
CIO: What is it about game theory that lends itself to career planning and career management?
Nathan Bennett: Game theory tries to make very salient, as you consider a career move, who are the other players; how are they going to react to your move; and what sorts of things can you do in advance to get you to win, so they support you rather than block you. You can use the questions game theory asks of a situation to diagnose your career situation and, as a result, make smart moves.
What are some of those questions?
There are dozens of questions. Here are a couple of examples. The first question to ask yourself is: Who are the other players who can impact my game? What options are open to each player? What goals are being pursued by each player?
Let's say that I work for you, and I'm interested in a promotion that's available at our company. I'm a player in the game. You're a player in the game. My goal is to experience upward mobility. What could your goals be? Your goal could be to develop a reputation in the company for developing the next generation of leaders. Your goal could be to pass on to some other sucker manager your biggest problem. Your goal could be to keep me from getting a promotion so that you don't have to replace me. You could encourage me, discourage me or sabotage me.
How do I know what you're going to do? It's by understanding what your goals are. If I'm thinking about applying for this position and asking you for a recommendation, won't I think about your goals to make a better decision? If I know your goal is to never have the boat rocked, to not have to replace me, I'd be much more reluctant to ask you for a recommendation.
Does game theory lend itself to long-term or short-term career planning?
You can use it in both cases. I can give you an example with my son. He realized during his sophomore year of college that he really wanted to be a chef. We talked about where he wants to be when he's 45. That's roughly 25 years out. He has a vision of being a chef at a particular restaurant. I asked him, If you want to be there at 45, where do you have to be at 40? At 35? At 30?