The Standing Ovation Problem

The Standing Ovation Problem is a fascinating and useful model to understand social phenomena (say social network) and think of any design that involves agents with own wishes and needs (i.e. humans).

Though ostensibly simple, the social dynamics responsible for a standing ovation are complex. As the performance ends, each audience member must decide whether or not to stand. Of course, if the decision to stand is simply a personal choice based on the individual’s own assessment of the worth of the performance, the problem becomes trivial. However, people do not stand solely based upon their own impressions of the performance.

A seated audience member surrounded by people standing might be enticed to stand, even if he hated the performance. This behavioral mimicry could be strategic (the agents wants to send the Though ostensibly simple, the social dynamics responsible for a standing ovation are complex.

As the performance ends, each audience member must decide whether or not to stand. Of course, if the decision to stand is simply a personal choice based on the individual’s own assessment of the worth of the performance, the problem becomes trivial. However, people do not stand solely based upon their own impressions of the performance.

A seated audience member surrounded by people standing might be enticed to stand, even if he hated the performance. This behavioral mimicry could be strategic (the agents wants to send the right signal to the lecturer), informational (maybe the lecture was better than he thought), or conformal (he stands so as to not feel awkward). Regardless of the source of these peer effects, they set the stage (so to speak) for interesting dynamic behavior.

www2.econ.iastate.edu/tesfatsi/StandingOvation.MillerPage.pdf

We should start practicing such complexity awareness when considering the design of systems. Our users don’t exist in a vacuum. they interact with each other and the environment in new, unpredictable and interconnected ways. The image of flat and standard reality (and human decision making) is an illusion.

Published by Nitzan

I am a designer, writer and strategist with interest in machine learning, liminal thinking and complexity science. In my commercial work I help companies build innovative tools, design better qualitative processes, and lead that human machine collaboration with complexity in mind.

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