It’s Like Jeopardy: What Game Theory Has to Do with Work Culture

Karen Jaw-Madson
May 21 · 3 min read

Design thinkers are encouraged to build what Roger L. Martin called “knowledge systems” by exposing themselves to a variety of stimulus — not only to learn, but to make connections, inspire, and apply. This is important because it sets the conditions for innovation. Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From specifically calls out exaptation (taking inspiration from one area and applying it to another) and collision (magic that comes from bringing different perspectives/expertise together), perfectly summing it up with “chance favors the connected mind.” This becomes second nature with practice. With a bunch of small antennae constantly pinging, we find ourselves synthesizing new bits of knowledge all the time. Revelations amusingly present themselves in the most unexpected ways.

Which leads to this discussion: What does game theory have to do with culture? More than one expects. This article about the game theory behind James Holzhauer’s epic winning streak on Jeopardy yields multiple insights when it comes to company culture:

You have to be in the game. If you aren’t intentionally managing company culture, you are more than just forfeiting the chance to gain; you are actually risking a loss. Culture happens no matter what. If you don’t leverage it as an asset, it will deteriorate to a liability.

Timing is everything. Hitting the culture change buzzer before you’re ready will leave you fumbling for elusive answers where you might end up doing more damage than good. People aren’t machines that respond to the press of a button. Knowing and planning for what happens, when, and how must be strategic and informed by human-centered design.

Hit the high-value clues first. Don’t know where to start when it comes to your culture? The Design of Work Experience (DOWE) Culture Study as described in Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @ Work

a) provides a deep dive into the current state,

b) prioritizes where to optimize for the greatest impact, and

c) leads to scalable strategies and plans.

Invest more up front. In a Duke and Columbia University Study of almost 2,000 CEOs and CFOs representing 1,348 companies in North America, 92% said that improving culture would increase the firm’s value, but only 16% report that their culture is where it should be. This is because 69% are underinvesting in culture. Managing culture now will advance the organization that much further when you hit the “daily double”: the company valuation, filing of an IPO, an impressive employer brand when a hiring spree hits, an attractive business partnership, merger or acquisition, a R&D discovery or new billion dollar product launch, etc.

Survive to play another day. It’s not always about winning all the time, every day. Sometimes it’s simply the opportunity to continue to build an awesome company. Many organizations (and their leaders) forget that they primarily exist because of two things: their customers and their employees. If either leaves en masse, there’s no more business. Look to the “has been” companies taken down by their toxic cultures for proof. Culture touches, and therefore connects everything. An organization must decide if culture will make or break them.

“Forrest Bounce” Your Culture. Yes, going from category to category throws off competition. It also reinforces the chances of winning because you are covering more territory. Companies that “get” the pervasive nature of culture know they have work to do in multiple areas to ensure consistency and alignment. A culture that delights and engages people is one that is reinforced over and over again.

There’s so much more to be learned — and exapted — from game theory for the benefit of culture building and employee experiences. But remember that complex human beings can’t be boiled down to mathematical probabilities and they certainly aren’t always predictable or rational. Like Jeopardy champions, game theory only works if the skills and knowledge are there to back it up. Developing culture-building capabilities, employee engagement, and leadership at all levels will help. Design of Work Experience (DOWE) is the framework to show you how.

COnscious: Innovative Ideas for Organizational Cultures

Thought leadership on people strategies that create conditions for both people and business to thrive, a publication of Co.-Design of Work Experience. #innovation #culture #employeeexperiences #changemanagement

Karen Jaw-Madson

Written by

People/Culture/Experience Design Strategist, Workplace Innovator, Author of #CultureYourCultureBook, Consultant, Speaker;

COnscious: Innovative Ideas for Organizational Cultures

Thought leadership on people strategies that create conditions for both people and business to thrive, a publication of Co.-Design of Work Experience. #innovation #culture #employeeexperiences #changemanagement

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