Win-Win Finder

Incentive Equilibrium Analysis — resolve conflict so all sides win

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
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Incentive/Equilibrium Analysis is a fairly recent major creative problem-solving system to find its way into world use. It was first introduced in 1987 by this writer, at the annual Creative Problem-Solving Institute in Buffalo, New York, where some form of it has been practiced each year since. I/E Analysis has turned out to be far more than only a very good system for solving problems, and we will explore some of its other uses after the instructions below. First, we present it as a group creative solution-finding procedure.
The first 7 steps of I/E Analysis require, the first time tried, between 1 and 3 hours, and subsequently can be performed in about half to three quarters of an hour. Step 8 is a function of other variables, these mostly being the prior experience of participants, and can run between a few minutes and several hours.

For quick reference, use the handy Summary of Steps to Basic Win-Win Finder.

The Basis of Incentive/Equilibrium Analysis

Problems which last a while, despite varied good efforts to solve them—especially problems in the firm or in society involving large numbers of people—are usually situations in equilibrium. By definition, these are in self-defending homeostasis or sociostasis. Self-balancing, they reflexively maintain themselves, often in complex or sophisticated ways.

Identify and intercept the reflexive negative feedbacks by means of which a homeostatic situation or system maintains its equilibrium, and you can change that system almost without effort, with low cost in energy or money. To override that reflexive feedback is what drives up costs and makes solving that problem situation expensive, difficult or impossible.

Problems which are major, especially problems which involve many people, subsist from the behaviors of the people in that self-equilibrating situation –usually reflexive, usually undertaken for wholly different conscious motives than are the unconscious motives which are controlling the behaviors.

The tendency of most complexly sociostatic situations is to retain and restore equilibrium by unconscious reflex, regardless of the conscious motives of those involved—just as the homeostatic physical human body maintains its million-and-one complex balances by unconscious reflex, leaving the person’s conscious mind free to address other issues.

Acerbation Factor

Others looking on, or those adversely affected by the continuance or chronic return of the problem situation, assume that the controlling motives which direct people in those system-reflexive behaviors are conscious. They make severely negative judgments about the (presumably) conscious motives of those who keep the problem going. These judgments are almost always highly insulting as well as inaccurate, and engender the hostilities so frequently featured in major problem equilibria.

Where large numbers of people are involved, and especially in hierarchical and complex situations, there tends to develop a very great difference between what benefits the common good and what will benefit one’s own narrowly selfish interests.

Where such a difference exists, necessarily persons motivated by self-interest will advance—and at the expense of people who are motivated by what would benefit the whole.

To the extent such a difference is allowed to exist (or where you are very persuasive), such situations necessarily punish humanitarian and “higher” motivations. You can reduce to some extent that difference and that punishment, but you cannot entirely eliminate it. If what benefited selfish interests entirely benefited also the common good, the “selfish” would resemble the humanitarian and could not thereby be sorted out in favor of the humanitarian; in all other cases the situation sorts out the humanitarian in favor of the selfish. If you are very persuasive to the point where people on the other side of an issue from you go against their own interests, you soon run out of friends and potential friends.

To reduce such punishment—and to reduce the attrition of the higher-minded—reduce the difference between what benefits the individual and what benefits the whole. One way to achieve this is to address problem equilibria with the Win-Win Finder aspect of I/E Analysis.

Reduce the sacrifice of those who are motivated by or responsive to higher concerns. This frees them—and more people generally—to act on their higher and conscious motivations, and reduce the power and role of system-reflex, unconscious, inadmissible motivations. People become better people and more of the better people survive. Widespread use of the Win-Win Finder thus tends us toward a less bruising and more rational, sensible world.

Detailed step-by-step instructions for performing Incentive/Equilibrium Analysis

You need—

  • A group of 2 or more people besides yourself. Hundreds can “play,” subdivided into groups of from 4 to 6 persons each.
  • Plenty of “Post-It” pads, and pens or markers and notepads enough to go around.
  • A large sheet of paper (11×17 or larger) on a table, or an equivalent space on a chalkboard or markerboard, per sub-group “playing.”
  • (Optional:) a Polaroid camera and film, or a video camera, with which to easily record particular configurations en route to your most optimal solution.

If this is mostly people new to the procedure, so that the process is likely to require several hours, you might want refreshments also on hand in service of a break

Setting Up The Problem

Select or state the problem. In a small boxed-in space on the center of the allotted large piece of paper or board space, write the statement of the problem. Up to the middle of either side of that boxed-in problem space, draw a horizontal line through the allotted space or large sheet. Evenly spaced, draw 2 more lines across which mark off three horizontal spaces above the middle of that box, and 2 more such lines across the allotted space or large sheet which mark off three horizontal spaces below the level of that problem box. Here’s what your diagram would look like:

Step One: Viewed from disequilibrium

To bring equilibriating forces into view,

  • Imagine the problem to have been extremely disequilibriated by having been “solved.”
  • Imagine and describe in detail to your paired partner within your larger group or sub-group, what it would be like if the problem were not only solved but solved to an exaggerated degree, and notice everything that comes to vision or to mind in that context.
  • Brainstorm as many as possible of all the things you can think of which would be different if the problem were solved in such an exaggerated or extreme way.

Don’t stop to argue or judge, just include whatever entries come up. Find 40-50-100 possible differences resulting from the problem having been solved so utterly.

This exaggeration makes apparent some elements of the problem situation which would not have been so noticeable in static views of it even when participants are well informed. Whatever the problem, expanding thus the view of it being solved expands our perceptual map of the situation, and gives us room to peer between its elements.
(5-10 minutes)

Step Two: Identification of problem elements

In groups of 3 to 6, brainstorm who are all the players in that problem situation and who are all the players in the wings—Anyone who relates to, is affected by, affects or could affect, or could be affected by, that problem situation. Give specific names wherever possible, but identify also all groups and “interests” as well.

When in doubt as to whether a named entity is part of the situation, record it anyway instead of debating.

All named persons, parties, interests each go on a slip of Post-It.
(5-12 minutes)

Step Three: Setting values

Within your groups of 3-6, as rapidly as possible determine with each Post-It entry what the impact of solving the problem would be on the (perceived short-term) interests of each. Do this by means of “Quick-Vote.”—As each entry is read aloud, within 3 seconds everyone in your group “votes” his/her estimate by holding up or down 0, 1, 2 or 3 fingers. A positive impact on the entry’s perceived short-term interests is signified by the fingers held upward; an adverse or negative effect by the fingers held downward. In either case, the greater the perceived short-term impact on the entry’s interests, the more the number of fingers held out accordingly.

  • Position the Post-It of the entry at horizontal 0 line or 1, 2, or 3 spaces above or below, on your sheet or board, according to the rough average of your group’s “vote.”
  • On the left edge of the allotted large sheet or boardspace, provide a column space for “squiggles.” On the right edge, a column for asterisks (*). Accordingly,
  • If there are wide disparities in your group’s voting on some entry—say a plus two and a minus three—place that Post-It entry in the “squiggle” column. These squiggle cases are of special interest because examination of them often reveals whole sectors of the problem situation which might not otherwise have come to view.
  • Also, for any entry where there is a strong sharp impression of long-term real interest differing greatly from short-term perceived interest— post that entry in the asterisk column. In whichever column, post each entry, whether squiggle or asterisk, to correspond in terms of level with the average of your group’s perception of that entry’s perceived short-term interests.

Continue until all Post-It entries are posted somewhere on the sheet or board at some valence level.
(10-15 minutes)

Step Four: Examine

Analyze your sheet or board, with this concept in mind:   Entries above the 0-line (those with positive valences) are your potential sources of support for a solution. Below that neutral 0-line, entries with negative valences are likely to be somehow involved in the defeat of attempted solutions (and policies and courses of action).

Of special interest: swiftly review and analyze your “squiggle” and asterisk entries. In some special cases you may want to recap the above 3 steps in miniature, to identify elements within that special entry—these can be especially illuminating!

You may also discover key aspects of the problem situation from examining some of the possible relationships between entries, on and off the board or sheet. Especially focus on how a change in one might affect another.
(5-15 minutes)

Step Five: Win-Win Finder

Determine what changes or “sweeteners” would need to be added to the plan or solution or policy or course of action, to bring more entries topside your 0-line (making their perceived short-term interest impact positive). To what extent will the cost of those sweeteners subtract from some of your support? Start tinkering with the solution(s) or policy in such a way as to see if you can turn all valences positive and still have a distinctive thrust of solution.

It’s crucial to begin making such changes or adding such sweeteners, if you are to emerge with a solution which will generate broad enough support to be a solution. One experimental group, in fact, which up to this point had performed brilliantly, froze on its initial solutions without even beginning to explore such changes to those perfect jewels of resolution—and was the only such group not to develop at least the beginnings of an emergent genuine solution. (Even the several groups which ran out of time were clearly en route to an effective solution.)

If, as you check out these sweeteners, your solution is beginning to look a bit thin, your policy expensive or shaky, you may want to take a picture of the current configuration of your sheet or board, then try a different proposed solution or policy. Go quickly as possible on each entry interest, to get a group-averaged estimate as to possible change from old to proposed new solution impacting on that entry’s perceived short-term interests.

This is also your opportunity to get someone’s “pet solution” run and out of the way. The more important a problem is, the likelier you will have people who have pet solutions to it. To free their full attention for the ultimate solution-finding, as soon as possible after running such a pet solution through the valences and down the tubes, start running another proposed solution through the valences.

Design Objective

Find a solution which constitutes a win/win for all concerned, if possible even in the short run—and definitely a win/win for all in the long run. The extent to which the eventual solution falls short of that objective is the measure of the cost in power, force or extraordinary persuasion which would be required to implement that solution or policy.

If that solution is not universally win/win, it must be at least close enough that sufficient support will be generated to supply special or compensatory incentive to those factors which otherwise would not be sharing in the win. If your solution cannot generate that much support, it probably is not a good enough solution. Seek another which is.

Example: One suggested idea for finding a cure for AIDS faster (or any seemingly incurable fatal disease which still leaves mental faculties relatively in good order) would be: to staff an entire major research center (and dedicated funding commitment) with medically qualified researchers who are themselves AIDS victims—and turn them loose on the problem. However—

  • Other identified elements in the AIDS problem appear to be adversely affected by that possible answer and/or by any possible major and/or inexpensive cure. These elements would, consciously or unconsciously, probably block action for all sorts of high-minded reasons, explanations, protection of the public, safeguarding of human rights, rules of accountability for public resources, whatever
  • To be adopted, this solution option would have to be accompanied by other measures, possibly by direct incentives to those other identified elements—and delicately enough not to offend sensibilities with an air of “buying off” someone or of impugning motives.

More generally, this example suggests, in broad outline at least, a strategy which might be used to rapidly find cures for most remaining incurable diseases, some of which have been around with billions in research and treatment spent on them, for a long time and with a tremendous extent of human suffering.

Step Six (if needed)

If all your major solutions and policies have shown up bankrupt, then brainstorm in your group all possible solutions to the problem without regard to acceptability or suitability, to flush new options into view. The “support-first” rule is back in effect. Try for 40, 50, 100 solution suggestions.

Quickly pick out the most interesting ideas from the list, and/or bunch them. Give special attention to that idea which was first greeted with a burst of laughter, since that often turns out to be the best idea. If no one idea emerges “head and shoulders” above the rest, use whatever quick sort-down method can get you to the 2-3 most interesting solution possibilities within 3 minutes or so. Configure each on your sheet or board as above, then look for the least expensive sweeteners which will bring virtually everyone above the 0-line. Also, on each of these,

  • Compare your own gut-level responses to each solution.
  • See if you can identify and state in particulars the cause(s) of that gut-level response.
  • See what that factor does when introduced into your board or sheet.

Remember that any problem-solving formula or method “is a tool, not a rule;”. Its purpose is to expand perception over facets which otherwise might not get noticed and which just might possibly contain your winning answer. Sometimes, pointing in one direction is what brings another direction into view. In the long run, not the method but you make the decisions.

Step Seven: Select

Choose the preferred solution. Improve further on it. Design a step-by-step sequence of operations which will cause it to be implemented, a series of specific steps culminating in completion of the solving of that problem. Your steps need to be concrete enough, specific enough, that you will readily know when each is completed or that it is not. Pinpoint each step in sequence or time. Make sure you’ve accounted for First Step. (What’s First Step? If there’s anything which has to be done before that step, then it’s not First Step, so what is First Step?)

In other words, generalities may point the direction, but solutions happen only through concrete specific steps.

For quick reference: Summary of Steps to Basic Win-Win Finder

Related reading: Complex Homeostasis — the behavior of systems

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