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What do Game Theory and Supernanny have in common; and what can they both teach us about business?

Success in business leadership often hinges on strategic thinking, effective communication, and adept decision-making. I’m often surprised therefore when I find myself turning to sources of inspiration from my youth, with valuable insights being gleaned from the unexpected sources of my studies in game theory and what I turned to for respite from my studies, the acclaimed television series "Supernanny." While seemingly disparate, both offer similarly profound lessons in how to create productive environments, which emphasise kindness and forgiveness, whilst setting boundaries and ensuring clarity. Let's delve into how these principles can be applied by business leaders to drive organisational growth and cultivate meaningful workplaces.

Kindness as a strategic imperative

In game theory, the concept of reciprocity underscores the importance of kindness. This principle suggests that individuals are more likely to cooperate and collaborate when treated with kindness and respect. According to Harvard Business Review, being kind to your employees helps retain talent, enhances productivity and increases engagement.  Acts of kindness, whether through recognition, support, or empathy, can significantly impact employee morale and organisational cohesion. The research carried out by Beaumont People showed that having the trust of your managers was the highest contributing factor to the meaning people found in their work.

Forgiveness as a catalyst for growth

 In both game theory and parenting strategies advocated by Supernanny, forgiveness plays a pivotal role. In game theory, the iterated prisoner's dilemma demonstrates how forgiving past transgressions can lead to mutually beneficial outcomes in repeated interactions. Likewise, in business, fostering a culture of forgiveness can mitigate conflicts, promote learning from mistakes, and encourage innovation. Leaders who exemplify forgiveness create an environment where employees feel empowered to take risks and learn from failures, ultimately inspiring organisational growth. There’s even research now suggesting forgiveness should be taught as part of increasing public health.

Setting boundaries for productive relationships

Boundaries serve as essential guidelines for interactions, delineating acceptable behaviour and expectations. Supernanny's approach emphasises the importance of setting clear and consistent boundaries to instil discipline and respect in children. In Axelrod’s game theory tournament, the highest winning strategies regularly shared the characteristic of being retaliatory - there was a consequence for betrayal. Similarly, in business, establishing boundaries is crucial for maintaining professional relationships and ensuring team and organisational cohesion. Effective leaders set clear boundaries regarding roles, responsibilities, and acceptable conduct, minimising misunderstandings and creating a conducive work environment. As outlined by Forbes, boundaries build trust, which is crucial for the kindness and forgiveness discussed above.

Clarity as the cornerstone of communication

Clear communication is paramount in both game theory and the strategies employed by Supernanny. Game theorists emphasise the importance of clarity in conveying intentions and strategies to optimise outcomes in strategic interactions. Likewise, Supernanny emphasises the significance of clear and concise communication between parents and children to avoid confusion and conflict. In business, leaders must com municate clearly to articulate goals, expectations, and feedback, to ensure alignment driving collective efforts toward common strategic objectives. Entrepreneur magazine articulates it well, explaining that clarity boosts collaboration.

Practical applications in business leadership

Drawing from these lessons, you can implement several practical strategies to enhance your team and company dynamics and drive success:

  1. Create a culture of kindness: Encourage acts of kindness and empathy within the workplace, recognising and appreciating employees' contributions. Encourage an inclusive environment where individuals feel valued and supported.

  2. Embrace forgiveness: Adopt a growth mindset by acknowledging and learning from failures. Promote a culture of forgiveness, where mistakes are viewed as opportunities for growth rather than grounds for punishment.

  3. Set clear boundaries: Define clear boundaries regarding roles, responsibilities, and acceptable behaviour. Ensure that expectations are communicated effectively to minimise ambiguity and promote accountability.

  4. Communicate with clarity: Prioritise clear and transparent communication, ensuring that messages are conveyed effectively and understood by all stakeholders. Encourage open dialogue and feedback to enhance a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement.

By adopting these principles into your leadership approach, you can create a work environment characterised by kindness, forgiveness, well-defined boundaries, and clarity. Sometimes drawing inspiration from surprising disciplines can unlock new perspectives and strategies for navigating the complexities of organisational dynamics to drive sustainable success.


Author of ‘Meaningful Work: Unlock Your Unique Path to Career Fulfilment’, Nina Mapson Bone is a people strategist, consultant, chair and keynote speaker. She consults with boards, CEOs, founders and executives on bridging the disconnect between strategy and the needs, motivations and capabilities of their people. Nina’s executive career has spanned three continents and diverse sectors. She was previously the Managing Director of Beaumont People, where she led a period of significant growth for the organisation, during which it was recognised with multiple awards. For more information visit



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