Tournament Model

Muthu@SFO-May-2018.jpg

This year I had chance to speak at my undergraduate institution – a well recognized engineering school in Trichy, India – about various things concerning my professional development and understanding of Science, Engineering and innovation in my short career as software developer and scientist-in-training.

Primarily, my goal was to communicate the tournament model and how we may enjoy our time in educational institutions pursuing a quest for truth regardless of some of the outcomes – just because they are governed by the tournament model.

Consider your task: to pick a winner in 2-player games from a group of N (say 128 or 64 players – like a typical Tennis tournament [or teams of smaller sizes for IPL or World Cup cricket tournaments]) then goal is to organize the games as a championship format with league rounds and knock-out tournaments to eventual final which decides the winner. This is the tournament model.

An alternate version where number of teams/players participating is not a power of 2, we may setup the model as follows algorithm/pseudocode;

  1. Enter all teams/payers in a double-ended-queue [deque]
  2. Select first-2 teams in queue and let them play;
  3. Take the winner of this game and enqueue to the end of queue; discard the loser (obviously!)
  4. Now we have N-1 teams/players in the queue.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4, till number of players is 1.
  6. We have a winner!

Key insight of tournament model is the fact that small differences between entities participating in the model can be amplified by the model making winners, and effects like the Matthew effect can ensure initial advantages snowball over time [esp. in industries like entertainment, social networking etc.]

The tournament model decides frequency of India vs Pakistan cricket matches, why Nadal vs Federer is most likely grand-slam final match up; the system decides success of professional actors and actresses. Why are Kamal Hassan and Rajinikanth more famous than other talented male actors of their generation (e.g. Sathyaraj, Karthik, Prabhu, etc.)[not to mention other female actresses – a whole other question]. Modern day movie star rivalries are also plenty, to wit – Danush vs Simbu etc. in their ascent to fame.

Many principles of randomness of outcomes, and regression toward mean explain the outcomes in retrospect; but none of the techniques have an ability to explain these phenomenon in a predictive manner which one may seek.

Hence as students approaching a potentially lifetime of work in field of engineering or science, I recommend everyone to aspire to understand the fundamental pieces – to learn the instruments, notes, chords, scales of their musical pieces – not just the piece itself- so in the future you can compose your own orchestral music; so that you can build tools for future challenges that you may face – surely different from challenges you were taught to resolve – using an open ended approach to learning.

Tournament model also helps you handle failures – be it product, strategy, problem areas in life. Usually, losing at something is by not making the grade or placing second or being edge out is by being marginally “less” in some way, shape or form, compared to competition.

What is your experience with managing technology projects, and their outcomes ? Leave your comment below.

-M.A.

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