- Paperback: 512 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 59521st edition (January 4, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393337170
- ISBN-13: 978-0393337174
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 93 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist's Guide to Success in Business and Life Paperback – January 4, 2010
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About the Author
Avinash Dixit is Emeritus John J.F. Sherrerd University Professor of Economics at Princeton University, where he offered his popular freshman course in game theory. He is among the world’s leading economists, having made fundamental contributions in several major fields as well as in game theory. He is the author of many books, including Dixit/Nalebuff: Thinking Strategically (Norton, 1991), Dixit/Pindyck: Investment Under Uncertainty (Princeton University Press, 1994), and Dixit/Nalebuff: The Art of Strategy (Norton, 2009).
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As an example, one of the insights from the book is that if your opponent would gain an advantage if they knew your course of action ahead of time, there is an advantage to you to include some level of randomness in your decision-making. It uses the example of a penalty kick in soccer. Even if you're better kicking to the right, if the goalkeeper knows ahead of time which way you will kick, your chances of scoring a goal will decrease. You can increase your chance of scoring by randomly deciding to kick to the left some percentage (here is where the math kicks in) even through you aren't as good kicking to the left. Same would apply to a football team on the goal line. Even if you are much better running the ball, you will have a better chance of scoring touchdowns if you throw the ball a certain percentage of the time. Again, the math proves this even if you aren't a believer.
I'm not certain why they exist as two separate books. The content is almost identical, and 90% of the examples in this one were lifted from that. I have no idea why this is touted as a "sequel." It is not. It's just Thinking Strategically repackaged (but I will say that its package is prettier). The tagline says that it's a "guide to success in business and life," but it is not. It is game theory explained in an accessible way.
I love game theory. I studied economics in college, and game theory had been my favorite class. I enjoyed Thinking Strategically and looked forward to reading this one. I was disappointed. Had I not read Thinking Strategically, I probably would have found this enjoyable, but I'm giving it two stars for the false advertising.
Strategy can be understood as the adversarial act of beating a competitor, while being aware that the competitor is trying to beat you too. All too often, strategy is developed with nowhere near enough awareness of the possible behaviour of the competition.
“Game Theory”, on the other hand, starts with the assumption that you are “playing” against a competitor who is trying as hard as you are to beat him, and not get beaten. “It is the art of putting yourself in others’ shoes so as to predict and influence what they will do.” However, it need not be wholly adversarial: in the game one option is to cooperate for the better good both players’.
It is the position of game theorists that there are some simple basic principles that can lead to a somewhat more scientific approach to strategy. Game theory will never achieve the status of a science because we are always dealing with people who are unique, and are driven by values, aspirations, and more, rather than by a set of universal rules.
Game theory is a relatively young discipline, but has already gathered many useful insights for decision-making and practical strategy. The use of the word “game”, highlights both the competitive aspects as well as the participation of other parties, whose moves will influence our choices.
It is common in Game Theory to use examples that have the benefit of identifying central issues across a wide spectrum of strategy problems. Accessible examples are an effective vehicle for conveying the important ideas.
Perhaps the most well-known example is that of the Prisoners’ Dilemma. Two prisoners held separately, are offered the opportunity to confess to the crime they are accused of committing, in return for a light sentence. They both doubt there is hard evidence against them. If neither confesses they are likely to be acquitted. If either one confesses, the other will be severely sentenced. Since they cannot confer, what would be the most prudent course of action for each one of the prisoners?
The principles behind this game are very similar to decisions a retailer might have to make regarding pricing. If one prices goods high, there will be a greater margin of profit. If, however, the competitor lowers the price, the first retailer will see his customers defecting. If the first competitor lowers his price and the competitor retains a high price, he will benefit greatly. If they both lower prices, both will return smaller profits.
In the world of commerce, the game is rarely played out once, and most often with multiple players. The logic of the Prisoners’ Dilemma remains the same, if in a more complex form. Much work has been done over the years to try to identify the most effective strategy in these situations. John Harsanyi, John Nash, and Reinhard Selten received the Nobel Prize for their work in Game Theory and its contribution to economics, as did Robert Aumann and Thomas Schelling.
Identifying how these “games” are best played has ramifications for decision-making in fields from strategy to wage negotiation. Where the game requires simultaneous moves, there is usually a solution known as the “Nash equilibrium” (after John Nash, subject of the movie “A Beautiful Mind”.)
John Maynard Keynes, the 20th century economist, used a newspaper beauty contest, popular in his day, to understand the stock market. Newspapers in his day published pictures of beautiful women, and ran a competition where the winner would be the person who correctly identified which woman most people thought was most beautiful. A stock-picker, Keynes explained, wishes to select stocks which will appreciate in value. A “hot stock” is one everyone thinks that everyone else thinks, is a desirable item.
Any of the many games described in “The Art of Strategy” have compounded effects that make the game more complex. If a prisoner chose to confess to in order to receive a light sentence, his decision might be coloured by the thought of the friends of the prisoner who did not confess, waiting for him on his release.
The presence of a well-respected stock-picker may change the opinion of investors in either direction.
Game theory aims to provide decision-makers with at least a method, if not a definitive answer to how to makes decisions that are based on the decisions others.
This book has the feel of a university course conducted by charismatic professors with a unique ability to make very complex ideas accessible and entertaining.
“All of us are strategists, whether we like it or not. It is better to be a good strategist than a bad one, and this book aims to help you improve your skills at discovering and using effective strategies,” say the authors, and they deliver on that promise.
Readability Light ---+ Serious
Insights High -+---- Low
Practical High --+-- Low
Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy