The jury dilemma
The prisoner’s dilemma is well known. Two suspects of the same crime are in a cell separately from each other. They have a choice: to keep their mouths shut, confess or blame the other person. The latter option is at first sight the most advantageous; if the other chooses to remain silent, the ‘traitor’ can go home and the accused receives three years in prison. If they report each other, they both get two years.
The best option is the variant in which both keep their mouths shut. In that case, they each receive a sentence of one year. It is only the best option in theory, because going free is still the optimal scenario for an individual suspect. But what if he talks and the other suspects person decides to talk as well? Or worse, one decides to go for the optimal scenario and the other walks out the door? Three years in jail, a major setback…
The prisoner’s dilemma is an example of game theory. This theory is about mathematical models of strategic interactions between rational decision-makers (Wikipedia). Brilliant minds have dealt with it, such as Nobel laureate John Nash, about whom the film ‘A beautiful mind’ was made.
Believe it or not, game theory always comes to my mind when I have the honor of attending the final meeting of the CIO of the Year Award as a jury member. Not that the finalists, all top CIOs, will go to jail, far from it. They have a chance to win the honorary title of CIO of the Year, a prize that has proven to have considerable impact on one’s career.
Envision the setting: a long table, with the jury on one side and the four finalists on the other. The question is: how should you behave as a finalist in this jury meeting? Do you have to trump your fellow candidates to win, at the risk of the jury discarding your candidacy? Do you have to be courteous and empathetic, at the risk of not standing out enough? Of course I’m not going to say what the jury thinks about this, but I do try to put myself in the shoes of the candidates.
What strikes me every year is how friendly the finalists are towards each other. They exchange compliments, do not interrupt each other and seem to be sincerely interested in the other finalists’ presentations. Would they have the optimal scenario of the prisoner’s dilemma scenario in mind? ‘Don’t talk and let’s both serve one year?’ I think it’s different. These are leaders who go for the collective result. They are used to working in a team setting and creating the optimal conditions for their teams. This servant leadership is reflected in the beautiful group process of the jury meeting. This way, the four CIOs make it extra difficult for us as jury members. Maybe that’s what they are after…
Imagine the daunting task of selecting the best leader from such an elite group… All that’s available is to look closely and analyse carefully. You will hear the result on 23 November!
Arnoud van Gemeren, CIO of the Year Award jury member