Q: Is the Prisoners Dilemma A Good Model for Doing Business?

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Sales

Q: I am currently working on a degree in Computer Science with a focus on Artificial Intelligence, in particular Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing. My goal is to do a startup after college but while I find the technology aspects straightforward, some aspects of business are challenging.

How do you form partnerships with other people and other companies? I studied game theory last year and it would seem from the Prisoners Dilemma that as long as you plan on never working with that person again it is in your best interest to screw them over. But if you plan on working with them for a long time then you should start by being good to them and then treat them as they treat you (“Tit for Tat“). How do you look at forming business partnerships?

In real life, as opposed to thought experiments like the Prisoners Dilemma, it’s hard to tell when, where, and in what circumstances you will meet someone again. I don’t think it’s ever in your best interest to screw anyone over.

We exist in a web of relationships with membership in overlapping but distinct communities. As entrepreneurs we can be seen as agents of chaos by the status quo but our aim is innovation that leaves society on balance better off.

Of course we have to make a profit for our businesses to continue, but there are other gains that come from entrepreneurship beyond the financial that lead us to invest in our employees education, to invest in our communities and to “leave a little money on the table” when dealing with partners and suppliers in the interest of good will and future relationships.

Business is situated in community and a social context: a good reputation as fair dealer committed to the values of the community, as evidenced by actual kindness and charity will create more value in the long run than treating every transaction as the last one you will ever do with the other party.

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