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March 4, 2007 » 7:55 pm

The Banana Hoarding Problem

I spent a good portion of this weekend listening to (and laughing at) my friends, Andrew and Elene, who are having a little problem at work. They both work at a large Silicon Valley company that has fresh fruit delivered each week — apples, oranges, and green bananas. Each week, the bananas disappear right away. Why? Because people hoard a week’s worth of bananas at their cubicles, rather than taking only what they’re going to eat right away.    (LXI)

What should my friends do? Here were some answers I and others came up with:    (LXJ)

  • They should hoard bananas for themselves.    (LXK)
  • They should take bananas from one of the hoarders.    (LXL)
  • They should bring their own bananas.    (LXM)
  • The company should order more bananas.    (LXN)
  • The company should appoint a banana distribution manager.    (LXO)
  • They should hoard all the bananas themselves, and become the de facto banana distribution managers.    (LXP)
  • The company should hire an old person to stand in the kitchen at all times, a la Wal-Mart. This will shame people from hoarding.    (LXQ)
  • They should poison one bunch of bananas, then put up a sign saying that one bunch is poisoned without indicating which one.    (LXR)

What would you do? Blog (and link here) or tell me your answers.    (LXS)

Not only was it incredibly funny to see how dismayed my friends were (what can I say, I’m a sadist?), but it was actually interesting to think through the problem. It’s a real-life instance of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, a classic cooperation (but not necessarily collaboration) problem.    (LXT)

At the St. Louis Collaboratory workshop last October, we spent the day working on the Iterated Prisoners Dilemma, appropriate since the workshop was held in a former police station. It was fascinating to watch people work through the problem. I’ve been sitting on a pile of notes about it for months now, and this latest real-world dilemma may motivate me to sort through them and blog about it.    (LXU)

Update    (LY4)

Clearly, the Banana Hoarding Problem is more widespread than I originally thought, as the empathy and some possible solutions are already starting to come in. Once again, we see the Wisdom of Crowds at work (or not).    (LY5)

Keep your answers coming!    (LY8)

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