Perhaps the biggest shift towards sustainability will happen in the hunter-dominance mentality of our traditional instinct to power. Game theory has tested the “win-lose” game of dominance against win-win strategies through computer simulations for many years, always with the same result: 5% win-win players, who have a chance to communicate and collaborate with each other, will overwhelm a win-lose majority and completely eliminate their presence within 200 iterations of the game. In the classic research text , The Evolution of Cooperation, Robert Axelrod describes the experiments that show how unforced cooperation in a world of self-seeking egoists is not only possible, but becomes the wise egoist’s strategy of choice when it comes to satisfying his interests and needs.
The optimistic insights from game theory were enthusiastically adopted in international relations, business negotiations (e.g. the Harvard Model of William Ury), and economics to name only a few. Within a win-win environment, win-lose strategies are not a threat, as they fail to gain a footing or are quickly eliminated again in subsequent interactions. Cooperation is sustainable.
Why then has the win-lose mentality been so robust?
One possible answer lies in the fragmentation of the world in which the strategy has been applied in the past. Collaboration needs a framework, both to keep the collaborators in constant contact, and to make the consequences of different strategies immediately transparent. As the Web knits our relationships every more tightly together, we are evolving a robust context of networked interaction in which the logic behind game theory seems now to be taking over.
In Macrowikinomics, Tapscott and Williams describe the first stirrings of a world which in game theory terms could be described as genuinely living off win-win dynamics. Open Source, Open Innovation, Open Science, open politics, based on social networks of knowledge and initiatives are bowling away the win-lose competition. This is probably the most important book of the decade, as Thomas Friedmann’s The World is Flat was to the 2000’s. Friedmann described the challenge to traditional economic power structures in the age of web connectedness, where the playing field of competition had become level (flat) to actors around the world to allow them to participate in the economy from wherever they were. Tapscott and Williams describe less how people compete through being connected, as how connectedness itself is competing with the assumptions about power and success based on win-lose strategies.
Open software innovation is challenging proprietary models; open innovation is leveraging data at companies like Novartis and Nike and giving them a competitive advantage. Wikileaks is challenging the entrenched power structures of the military, bureaucracies and lobbing interests behind the effervescent show provided by politics and media. Young and disenfranchised voters posed a genuine threat to the power of the Mullahs in Iran after the stolen elections through Twitter, and young Muslims are communicating about alternatives behind the backs of their regimes.
As threatening as these developments are to established ways of thinking, exercising power, and earning a living (see the lawsuit by Sun a few years ago to try to stop open source as a threat to business itself (much more Sun’s own version of business), Web2.0 strategies are probably the solution to all of the great challenges we are facing in the world. Democratic, transparent, networked collaboration focussed on viable solutions aimed at increasing general well-being: what a vision, and Tapscott and Williams show us how it is becoming reality.