Emir Kamenica: Game Theorist, Hipster, Life Coach
By Paritosh Kumar '16
He’s all too aware that his wife is smart and beautiful but has no clue about his own MBA hipster icon image. He spoke candidly about his life, except, he wouldn’t tell us what his beard grooming routine is. Kamenica grew up in Bosnia till he was fourteen but ended up in Atlanta, Georgia when he was in the 9th grade. He dreamed of being an old-school, pipe-smoking, and leather-patch-jacket-wearing professor at a teaching college (I could see that, can you?) .
He decided to settle on economics while he was in undergrad and his research has changed a fair bit over time – from empirical research to more theoretical.
When asked why he is here (academia) and not somewhere else, he said, “I really value spending my time doing whatever I feel like doing at that time. Academia gives you the freedom to think about what you want to think about”.
He says he is at Booth, “because they gave me a job (laughs). A number of my very close friends, coincidentally, from college and grad school had come here and their presence here made this unlike any other place in the world. Unfortunately, all three of those people are now gone.”
On how he felt when he realized, during his coverage on This American Life, that plagiarizing the essay was not the changing point of his life - “Meeting Ms. Ames was part of this larger experience. Her story not matching with my story was not the most salient aspect of the experience. It was much more the experience of meeting her.”
Our conversation sways to his teaching interest in competitive strategy and I ask him about applying game theory to dating: “If you’re just looking to have fun the dominant strategy is to date anyone you’ll have fun dating.”
But otherwise, “Be cognizant of, especially in the early stages, the difference between private values and common values. What do you idiosyncratically like about this person and to what extent other things you like are things that everybody likes about the person? Not all women seem to be after the same guys but looks like almost all guys are after the same 5% of women. That suggests that men might be under appreciating the value of finding someone who is great particularly because of things that they might appreciate and someone else might not.”
On what he likes/dislikes about teaching MBA’s, “I really enjoy teaching. I’ve really only taught MBA’s, so I don’t have much to compare to. I find it a really fun experience. There is a subset of students though, that might have a more short term perspective - how can I use this when I walk out of the door? If you’re looking for lessons with immediate applicability, you really constrain the set of topics that you can fruitfully talk about. There are a lot of really interesting things that, I think, are really worth thinking long about that don’t have the feature of an immediate payoff. So there is occasionally some, though certainly not all students, who have a little bit of a myopic view of what they are supposed to do with the things they learn.”
Finally, some life advice, “Spend lesser time thinking about what you’re achieving and more time thinking about whether you have the right attitude towards the quality of your life.”
Paritosh is taking a moment to absorb all that has been discussed.