Rewarding behaviour that you least want enacted

This post pays homage to Steven Kerr for his article titled “On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B” [reprinted in Academy of Management Executive, 1995 Vol. 9 No. I]  and available online via a search for “On the Folly”.

Kerr write eloquently bout the amazing number of examples where the types of behaviour being rewarded by those in authority are exactly those which the authorities would clearly wish to discourage.

Re-reading a 1993 book on the causes of IBM’s fall from power [Paul Carroll, Big Blues – the unmaking of IBM] I found a perfect example of such behaviour.

At that time IBM researchers were rewarded as follows “work deemed good enough to have a patent application filed received three points. “Work deemed good enough to be published warranted one point. work that couldn’t be published merited no points.” [p341]

Then the Chairman announced IBM would be using a ‘bell curve’ to reward employees. At IBM getting a patent filed mean far more effort and riskiness of success, that doing work sufficient to merit an article. Carroll charts the way in which this ‘reward’ system led to IBM losing some vital patents and reducing effort on patent oriented activity.

“It was much easier to be moderately clever thee times and publish three papers [6 points] than it was to be really innovative once and get a patent [3 points].” p342

While IBM survived this period of turmoil, this example of rewarding behaviour you least want to encourage continues as one where [apparently] really smart people were unable to see the consequences of their decisions.

One of the great strengths of simulations and games is their capacity to create contexts that are ‘safe and sufficiently insulated from the real’ to allow participants [intentionally or otherwise] to make exactly the kinds of mistakes applied by IBM to their researchers and then examine the impact of such actions in a timely and reflective manner.

The outcomes of such analysis have the potential to enable participants to capture the best and worst results of their actions, and prepare themselves to be more capable of seeing into the future beyond the kind of ‘knee jerk’ reactions to crises as applied at IBM [and many other businesses in crisis].

One of the great strengths of simulations is their ability to create ‘possible futures’ – they do not ‘predict’ with great certainty – for exploration and analysis. They enable participants to consider both actions/decisions and consequences/outcomes within the one timeframe.

They can help improve decision making and  the quality of long terms actions.

However as Paul Van Ripper found – if they are used badly – they can be worse than counter productive –

As with all forms of educational technology/tools/ processes games and simulations are only as strong and effective as the quality of their best users. And such quality is gained from practice, experience, research and analysis and having fun in the process of learning.

So – when you are running or taking part in a simulation – have fun! enjoy the process! watch what you do! and learn from everything that happens.

About gamestolearn

Games designer, and teacher of games design.
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