Reading Getting To Yes by Roger Fisher and William L. Ury, that small masterpiece on principled negotiation, I came across this memorable description of Lock-in tactics:
“This tactic is illustrated by Thomas Schelling's well-known example of two dynamite trucks barreling toward each other on a single-lane road. The question becomes which truck goes off the road to avoid an accident. As the trucks near each other, one driver in full view of the other pulls off his steering wheel and throws it out the window. Seeing this, the other driver has a choice between an explosive crash or driving his truck off the road into a ditch. This is an example of an extreme commitment tactic designed to make it impossible to yield. Paradoxically, you strengthen your bargaining position by weakening your control over the situation.”
Since reading this, I have bought a spare steering wheel, which I keep in the car should the occasion arise. You never know. Anyway, I thought this description couldn’t be beaten until I looked up Thomas Schelling on Wikipedia and came across this surreal illustration:
“In an article celebrating Schelling's Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics, Michael Kinsley, Washington Post op‑ed columnist and one of Shelling's former students, summarizes Shelling's reorientation of game theory thus:
‘You're standing at the edge of a cliff, chained by the ankle to someone else. You'll be released, and one of you will get a large prize, as soon as the other gives in. How do you persuade the other guy to give in, when the only method at your disposal – threatening to push him off the cliff – would doom you both?’
‘Answer: You start dancing, closer and closer to the edge. That way, you don't have to convince him that you would do something totally irrational: plunge him and yourself off the cliff. You just have to convince him that you are prepared to take a higher risk than he is of accidentally falling off the cliff. If you can do that, you win.’
Why not just shut your eyes and head for the cliff edge, with your arms stretched out before you like a sleepwalker? You know the guy chained to you is going to stop you in time, and when he does, he’ll be screaming “I give in!” to the top of his lungs. It could save a lot of time and grief. But there again, I wouldn’t know. Call me killjoy, but I’m not in the habit of dancing on cliffs, chained to strangers, for prize money. Not yet, at any rate.