The Silent Treatment

38 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2016

See all articles by Geoffroy de Clippel

Geoffroy de Clippel

Brown University

Kfir Eliaz

Brown University

Kareen Rozen

Brown University - Department of Economics

Date Written: June 2016


Information overload is costly to organizations. Limited cognitive resources, multiple obligations, and short deadlines can lead a principal to overlook important ideas from subordinates. We propose a stylized model to highlight a remedy to this problem that should be relevant in many contexts. Since interactions in organizations are often repeated over time, there may be ways to incentivize agents to speak up only when they have something important to communicate; that is, to be discerning. One of the principal's jobs is then to steer the organization in this direction.

In our model, a principal's attention is repeatedly sought by multiple agents, each eager for his ideas to be implemented. An idea's quality stochastically affects the principal's profit, and agents' abilities to generate good ideas may be private information. The principal is unable to review proposals before choosing one each period. She can provide incentives only through her selection rule among proposals, but cannot commit to this rule in advance. We show how she may discipline agents to exercise restraint, achieving her first-best in an intuitive belief-free equilibrium. Whether first best is achievable hinges on the worst possible agent, the organization's 'weakest link.'

Selecting ideas in our model is reminiscent of multi-armed bandit problems, with the new feature that an arm's availability is a strategic decision each round. Our analysis also shows that such problems admit simple, robust solutions.

Keywords: belief-free equilibrium, limited attention, mechanism-design without commitment, multi-armed bandits, organizations

Suggested Citation

de Clippel, Geoffroy and Eliaz, Kfir and Rozen, Kareen, The Silent Treatment (June 2016). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP11335. Available at SSRN:

Kfir Eliaz

Brown University ( email )

Economics Dept.
Box B
Providence, RI 02912
United States
401-863-2112 (Phone)
401-863-1970 (Fax)


Kareen Rozen

Brown University - Department of Economics ( email )

64 Waterman Street
Providence, RI 02912
United States

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