The poet Horace once said, “Ira furor brevis est” – “Anger is a brief madness.” This is taken to be a strict warning against getting letting your emotions run away with you. The implication is that anger is a poor alternative to logic and reason.
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In the book The Godfather, the village that Don Corleone comes from (the village Corleone) is populated mainly by women. Apparently, the men were all killed by vendettas. A logical person will say that such are the fruits of passion. However, insanity (anger) has undeniable advantages, as I will attempt to show.
A chicken game is a special type of game where you want to convince the other person that you are going to go ahead with a certain plan no matter what the cost. The implication of this game is that if both of you take a certain course of action, it will ruin you both. However, if only one of you does it, then a reward awaits that person.
Take the example of two employees who want to ask for a raise. The boss is a guy who doesn’t like to be pushed around. So if you both ask for a raise, he’ll feel that you’re ganging up on him and fire you both. If however, only one of you asks for the raise, that person will get it.
So what can be the outcome of this game? As explained in an earlier article, stable outcomes are Nash equilibriums. So what are the Nash equilibriums in this game? There are two. The first is if only you ask for a raise. The second is if only your colleague does so. In either case, neither you nor your colleague regret the choice. If the person who didn’t ask for the raise had been bold enough to do so, then he would have gotten fired along with the other person.
Games like this are called “Chicken Games” since the question revolves around who will chicken out first while deciding whether to ask for a raise or not.
Winning Chicken Games
So if you’re in a game like this, what should you do? First, we must determine the outcome that you want. Obviously you would be most happy when you’re the only person to ask for the raise. That way, you get a raise, and no one gets fired.
Obviously there is no point in requesting your colleague not to ask for a raise. Why should he let you walk in and get the raise while he sits on his butt? However, if you could convince him that you are going to ask for a raise no matter what, then he will indeed not ask for it. If he did, he would get fired along with you, and no one wants that.
Unfortunately, you’re a reasonable person, and your colleague knows it. He knows that you don’t want to get fired. Therefore, your threat to ask for a raise even if he does isn’t credible. So how do you convince your colleague that you will ask for the raise no matter what?
The truth is, you can’t convince him. As long as your colleague thinks that you’re a cold blooded rational person, there’s no way you can convince him that you’re willing to get fired. The only solution is to make him think you’re illogical.
If you make him feel that your goal is not just to get a raise but also irrationally prevent him from getting one, then you have a credible threat. If you can convince him that you’ve put up with a low salary for too damn long and that you don’t mind getting fired (when you really do mind), then again, you have a credible threat.
Either way, you have to show your colleague that you’re not thinking straight, and that you’re not motivated solely by the money. If you can do this, then your colleague, being a rational person, will not ask for the raise since he thinks that you are going to do so no matter what.
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However, if you feel that your colleague is insane and is willing to get fired while asking for a raise, then you mustn’t ask for one! It all depends on whether you think he is rational or not. Whether he is really rational is irrelevant as long as he makes you think that he’s not. Just like it’s irrelevant whether or not you’re rational. In chicken games, appearances rule.
The only problem is, acting as if you you’re insane is not easy if you’re really sane. A truly insane person has a huge edge in chicken games because he’s not acting. Therefore, a little bit of madness goes a long way!
This is the reason why we’re all afraid of red ants. You can’t threaten them with death! They’re just not rational. They will bite you period. And that’s a credible threat.