What you do next depends on what you want to achieve.
“I find game theory interesting. I’d like to learn a little bit more.”
Here are some things you can do:
(a) Re-read “Game-Changer”. Trust me: you will get more out of it the second time around.
Of course, there are plenty of great game-theory books written by non-economists. For example, three of my favorites are “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clay Christensen, a business bestseller by an HBS strategy professor which charts a common pattern of strategic evolution (called “business disruption”) in industries as varied as computers, newspapers, and health care, “The Ownership of Enterprise” by Henry Hansmann, an eye-opening book by a legal scholar on how what one might call “the games of enterprise” determine how firms are owned, and “Flash Boys” by Michael Lewis, the 2014 best-seller on how the rise of high-speed trading transformed Wall Street for the worse. Since these books are written by non-economists, however, they often don’t make the connection for readers that what they are telling is, at heart, a story of game theory in action.
(c) Research a topic that fascinates you and practice thinking about it from a game-theory perspective. For instance, in August 2014 when I wrote this, my bookshelf included several books on infectious disease outbreaks (“Superbug” by Maryn McKenna, “The Great Influenza” by John Barry, and “The American Plague” by Molly Caldwell Crosby), reforming U.S. health care (“The Innovator’s Prescription” by Clay Christensen, Jerome Grossman, and Jason Hwang and “Better” by Atul Gawande), the doctor-patient relationship more specifically (“Critical Decisions” by Peter Ubel and “Top Screwups Doctors Make” by Joe and Terry Graedon), counterinsurgency warfare (“Counterinsurgency” by David Kilcullen and “U.S. Army Field Manual FM 3-24.2: Tactics in Counterinsurgency”), U.S. politics (“Reforming the Republic” by Todd Donovan and Shaun Bowler), and coordination / cooperation problems (“Governing the Commons” by Elinor Ostrom and “The Rule of the Road” by Peter Kincaid).
Very few of these books lay out the problem in a game-theory way, giving me the opportunity to “exercise my game-theory muscles” by doing it myself, thinking about who the players are, what their options and incentives are, the timing of moves, and so on.
“I’m facing a strategic challenge and I want to figure out how to change the game.”
(a) Spend some time gaining real game-awareness. Before rushing into change, figure out why the problem exists in the first place and why it hasn’t already been solved. Once you have done a few weeks of research, speak with leading experts in your topic area. You may think that they won’t talk with you, but you’re wrong. Experts love hearing from people who are genuinely engaged in understanding their area of expertise.
(b) Form your own “Game-Changer Cell.” Team up with two or three like-minded friends and dig into some local strategic challenge, where you might actually be able to change the game for the better. (For instance, if you are a high-school student, your might focus on the problem of bullying, with the aim of identifying ways that students can discourage bullying themselves and/or ways to improve school policies toward bullying.) Feel free to contact me for encouragement or advice — I can’t promise I’ll have time, but I’ll try — and let me know how it turns out [failures as well as successes]!
“The Game-Changer Mission feels like a genuine calling for me. I’d like to devote a week, a month, or even a year of my life to further this mission.”
There are ways for you to do this and, indeed, I believe that even a few people like you could profoundly change the world. How? By pioneering and building what I refer to as the “Game-Changer Community.” Imagine a virtual space in which Game-Changers could gather, from all over the world, to encourage one another, form ad hoc Game-Changer Cells to identify solutions to any sort of strategic problem (global as well as local), and mobilize for maximal influence and collective action.
Once we build it and have a few successes under our belt to publicize, this Community could naturally gain an awesome momentum, increasing in visibility and influence with every success, and growing in scope and power with every new recruit. This could be revolutionary. However, I lack the skills myself to create the sort of contagious “change platform” to make this vision a reality. (So I’m hoping especially to hear from people with the marketing and technical skills to create a compelling platform.)
I have several ideas on ways I can serve the Community — acting among other things as a curator, catalyst, promoter, and happy warrior — but I feel that defining my role at this point is like putting the cart before a non-existent horse. First things first: we need pioneers!