The strategy of the Individual
Placing a value on relationships
There have been many more experiments with tit-for-tat strategies since 1981. No strategy has out-performed it for success, only a few useful refinements discovered. Such refinements have been based mostly upon forgiving or allowing for misunderstandings or mistakes. This enables fresh starts to be made to a series of co-operative exchanges when they break down.
The most important general outcome of all the experiments though is that they can create relationships which have value and this value will increase the longer and more reliably the co-operational exchanges go on for. In terms of e-business and e-commerce, this is highly significant because this conclusion can form the basis of communication strategies for developing all kinds of co-operative relationships.
It may help to have a metaphor here, to create a mental model for the understanding of building value into a relationship. As the example in the airport waiting lounge illustrated, relationships involving co-operation have to be started slowly. At the beginning, they can be of an extremely trivial nature with little or no value. However, given perseverance, they can develop into substantial friendships and business associations.
This can be likened to rearing a chicken. At first, the chick has nothing to offer, apart from a cute novelty appeal. As it begins to grow the chick looses some of its cuteness and requires more and more time and effort to keep it alive. It'll require more space, make more mess. There may be a temptation to abandon the growing chicken and let it run off into the wild: perhaps allowing a return to buying and rearing more baby chicks that are so cute and easy to keep alive.
However, by persevering, feeding and looking after the growing chick it may one day start laying eggs. At this point the relationship will have transformed into an association of mutual benefit: a symbiotic relationship where each is helping the other to stay alive.
Using the trick of abstraction, we can relate this to Internet associations. These take an investment of time and effort at the beginning, but, they can blossom into arrangements of mutual exchange that have tangible values to each participant. For chicken food and eggs we can substitute information; this will see an investment in time and effort producing a valuable source of information, help and knowledge.
Using the abstraction trick again, we can say that useful information, help and knowledge have value. Value is readily convertible into money or energy. A regular source of useful knowledge and help can then be equated with a regular source of income. This takes us into the same ball park as the professional investors. Aren't they playing this same game, looking for valuable incomes? Haven't they developed all kinds of strategies for dealing in incomes? Don't they decide value by measuring one income value against another. Don't they look to build up portfolios of reliable and good value incomes?
This trick of abstracting out the essence of a co-operative strategy allows us to map between Internet communications, rearing chickens and investment managing. We can readily swap the concepts from one to another. The abstraction allows us to see the value not only in building up cooperative relationships, but, also in being able to build portfolios and compare relative values.
Taking the chicken metaphor further, we can think of a farmer who is earning a living by selling eggs. Imagine this farmer with a hen coop that can hold a maximum of fifty hens; he could be likened to the investment manager with a portfolio of fifty annuities or fixed interest bonds. Some chickens and investments would be better value than others. Also, their values can change.
In terms of the overall value of the farmer's chickens or the investment manger's portfolio, it would make good sense to constantly be trying to maintain or even raise the total value. Farmers would constantly be removing the chickens that were laying the least eggs and replacing them with better layers. As the economic conditions change, investment managers would constantly be replacing investments that were under performing with a view to replacing them with better performing investments.
Abstracting this across to social and business contacts would see an Internet communicator having a finite time to manage and maintain a number of contacts. The returns from each would have value. So, it would make sense for an Internet communicator to optimise his or her Internet communication time by dropping associations that have the poorest value and replacing them with better value.
In plain words, it means we have only a limited time to spend communicating with people on the Internet and this time ought to be spent as efficiently as possible. Like the farmer with his fifty chickens and the investment manager with his fifty investments, a person with time to spend communicating with fifty e-mail correspondents would need to be constantly replacing the worst performers.
In the world of bricks and mortar, such an attitude would be regarded as non ethical. It isn't considered good behaviour to drop friend's and colleagues as soon as they are of no use to you. Society norms and instinctive emotions tell you that this is a bad attitude to have. But, this is not the world of bricks and mortar; it is the world of permanent connectivity where the temporary dropping of a communication link is acceptable behaviour.
In the Industrial Age world of projects and managed teams, such a strategy could be likened to constantly replacing the poorest performers in a team with more suitable members. Although this would tend to make the team more efficient, replacement of team members in this way would be carried out reluctantly: out of necessity or in extenuating circumstances. To consider replacing team members frequently and constantly would be unthinkable to most managers and executives of the Industrial Age. Yet, this is the optimum dynamics for groups in the Information Age.
It is this conceptual chasm that most Industrial Age strategists find difficult to cross. Their reasoning is that it takes a lot of time, effort and money to create and build a stable, efficient team where the team members complement each other and work well together. It seems foolhardy to have a strategy that treats an efficient team so lightly and replace members in such a cavalier fashion. Thus, for both a group in the world of bricks and mortar and a team in the corporate world of the Industrial Age, it doesn't seem right to treat communication contacts in this way.
However, a collection of communication contacts on the Internet can be considered to be a virtual group or a virtual team, much like the virtual teams that were created in Berwick Street for buying costume jewellery. They can be looked upon as virtual circles of friends and contacts, selected temporarily from a wider pool of contacts and friends. By selectively dealing with only a few contacts at a time, it reduces the time, and takes away the pressure, of having to maintain continuous contact with the whole of a wider base of friends and contacts. This allows Internet communicators to have far larger ranges of friends and contacts than is possible in the world of bricks and mortar. As this works for both sides of relationships, far from being an unacceptable practice it is highly beneficial to all.
Likening this to retailer associations with wholesalers in Berwick Street, the wholesalers bear no animosity when they are dropped out of a retailer's weekly buying schedule. They know they can't always have the stock a retailer needs, but, they also know they'll be needed again as soon as their stock once again coincides with the needs of the retailer's customers. In this way the wholesalers are not dropped altogether when a retailer doesn't buy from them, they are just returned to a pool of the retailer's contacts that are selected from each week.
This happens on the Internet because it is so easy to make many more friends and contacts than it is practical to maintain a continuous dialogue with. Thus, the best strategy for everyone to adopt is to establish a large pool of contacts but concentrate on just a selected few of them at a time. In the world of the Internet this is acceptable behaviour because everybody is in the same situation and realises eventually that this is the most effective way for everyone to behave. The ease of communicating and the ability to use computer programs to keep track of communications and relationships make it a far different environment from the world of bricks and mortar, or, the managed team projects of the Industrial Age.
From the paradigm of an Industrial Age thinker, this still may not ring true because of the need for people to be able to fit in well together; to have to know each other; to allow for inadequacies and be able to anticipate how others are thinking and working. However, as we have already covered, these considerations are completely redundant in an object oriented world of virtual groups because people have only to be concerned with their own actions and behaviour.