Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mutual welfare in zero-sum games

One of the things I do with my kids judo classes is I quiz them on general judo knowledge as we warm up each class.  It is sort of a catechism-type Q&A deal.  One of the questions is, "What were Kano's two mottoes for judo?"  The answer, of course, being "mutual welfare&benefit" and "Make the best use of your power."  Well, try explaining mutual welfare or maximization of efficiency to a 6-year old.  So I re-worded these two mottoes.  For the purposes of my kids classes, the right answer is, "You and me both win" and "Find the easiest (or best) way for you and me to both win."
That has worked pretty good, but every so often we meet with a glitch in this simplistic wording of these complex ideals.  For instance, If you and I are supposed to both win, how come we do zero-sum games and contests where there are winners and losers?
I've been trying to figure out how to explain this to 6-year olds for a while now, and hadn't figured out how to phrase it just right, so I just decided to pose the question to my kids class and see if it was even an issue for them.  I asked, "how is it 'you and me both win' if we have a tournament and one kid wins and the other loses.
Right off the bat, my 7-year old son piped up with the perfect answer. "One guy gets a medal and gets to feel good about himself and the other guy gets to learn some stuff.  Both win."
I was floored - I mean, I know I have spawned an army of geniuses and all, but seriously!

Patrick Parker
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