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  • Peter Kam Fai Cheung SBS

Rules Of The Game


How much would you bid for an ordinary US$100 note? Here are the bidding rules: (1) the highest bidder gets the note, (2) the second-highest bidder would not get the note but have to pay the bidding price, and (3) the opening or minimum bid can be as low as US$1. If you decide to bid, do you think you would end up bidding over US$100 and perhaps much more?

Having learned about such a dollar auction game in a leadership program in the early 2000s, I played the game with my colleagues so that they would also learn the lesson behind. Once they began bidding, their common rational strategy was to beat the sequential highest bidder. And soon the sequential highest bidder and the sequential second-highest bidder would find themselves embroiled in irrational bidding (ie bidding a lot more than US$100) to win an ordinary US$100 note.

In relationships from family trifles to political crises, it is common that people or States focus on their respective best positions, rendering disputes inevitable. Any stakeholder could have taken the leadership to communicate and negotiate with other stakeholders. Or someone could have volunteered or been appointed by the disputants as a mediator to reduce the adversarial mode and facilitate dispute settlement.

Communication, negotiation and mediation identify and recognize commonalities, differences, priorities and can derive mutually beneficial dispute settlement options. Such are not against the rules of the dollar auction game and should be the rational rules governing human activities. Come to think of it: What is the point of paying eg US$1000 for an ordinary US$100 note or paying US$999 for nothing!

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