Switching off multiplayer mode

Humans have organised themselves for as long as there have been humans. Tribes, hunting parties, religions, clubs, gangs, businesses, social media audiences. We have relied on our ability to organise ourselves and others to get the species to where it is today, for better or worse. Without it we could not grow enough food, build a cathedral, or launch rockets into space.

In Game Theory the coordination problem tells us that if we all work together for a shared goal then we all benefit. Coordination, then, means agreement about the goal, and about how to achieve it; that it is a goal worth working towards, and who is going to do which piece of work. The bigger the goal, the more people it takes to achieve it. The more people who work towards the same goal, the more coordination is required.

Frederick Brooks showed us in The Mythical Man Month that complex work cannot be perfectly partitioned into discrete tasks that can be worked on without communication between the workers, and that adding more people to do the work increases the need for coordination to the point where people spend all their time communicating about the work instead of doing to work.

Despite the obvious ridiculousness that this way of approaching work leads too, it isn’t a lesson the majority of organisations have learned. We still hold onto the mindset that in order to accomplish something we need to be coordinated with others, and to accomplish bigger things requires more coordination.

But what if, instead of action being coordinated along with the goal, individuals could choose their own way of contributing towards the goal. What if we could do our own thing in pursuit of a shared goal without requiring our efforts to be coordinated. Maybe we could achieve more, and achieve it more quickly, if we didn’t rely on quite so much coordination. Maybe we can switch off multiplayer mode in the game of life and still accomplish our goals.