R. W. Berg’s Competition and Cooperation: The Wisdom to Know When, she performed an experiment on a series of individuals by placing them through an exercise called the Red-Blue Exercise (refered to as RBE here on out). The purpose of this exercise is to “raise the participants’ awareness of the present state of the software of their minds” (Berg, 176). Note that this exercise is in many ways similar to the prisoner’s dilemma. Her conclusion from the experiment was that we as humans revert to defensive competition upon the anticipation of any threat to our “strongly held beliefs or to our perceived images of ourselves”(Berg, 187). She predicted that debriefing her participants after the study on four major factors: reflection, fair play, trust, and ethics should help us learn when to cooperate and when to compete. An extrapolation of her findings stated that the business world would benefit from the same reflection that participants of RBE undertook. I agree with this point as I feel it is necessary for changing the practices of big business in the US, however, a number of my classmates found error in the RBE and to an extent the conclusions drawn from it. I believe these errors are born from either misunderstanding of the purpose of the RBE or misinterpretation of the exercise itself. It is important to understand the purpose of the RBE in its given business context before understanding why it is so valuable for our businesses.
Jc saenz notes that changing the values within the point system could possibly alter the actions of the players and the results of the exercise. While he did numerically demonstrate that changing the values of the point system could obscure the results of the exercise, I don’t think this deconstruction of the point system detracts from the moral conclusions that Berg drew from her experiment. For instance, note the “Agreement to Cooperate Based Upon an Even Distribution of Resources” subsection, beginning on page 184. “Team B has demonstrated good faith by sacrificing its advantage over Team A… Team A has been reimbursed for its act of good faith… the teams are on an equal footing both numerically and morally.” We can see that the conclusions gleaned from this exercise draw from both the numerical and moral aspects observed. In this specific instance, both of the teams benefited numerically by coordinating their choices, however, these benefits are a reflection of the trust and cooperation between the two teams. When we look beyond the exact values of the point system, this example is conducive to the purpose of the RBE as it reveals that reflection on one’s actions increases mutual trust and increases benefit.
shawnpak critiques the “three problems” Berg has with the “it’s just a game mentality” and states that these contradictions undermine the conclusions of the RBE. Claiming that RBE is a contest because that is explicitly stated in the preface to the rules, is a misinterpretation of Appendix A and the administrator’s role in the exercise. The administrator never explicitly reveals the overall aim of RBE: “The aim of the exercise is for your group to end up with the highest positive score”. Additionally, the RED-BLUE EXERCISE subsection states that an administrator can simply tell the participants that RBE is an “exercise in team decision-making”. Personally, I feel the above comment in a business setting would entail cooperation, not competition.
His second argument that teams need not act as if there are later rounds because the rules provide a round maximum is rhetorically valid, however, this takes the restriction too literally. Berg wants to show us how the behavior the participants is applicable to the real world, where there are many more than 10 rounds.
Lastly, he states that since there are no real stakes, the participants have no motivation to treat the situation as an authentic business situation. I think this is a correct assertion and a blow o the comparison Berg made between the contrast Prisoner’s Dilemma and the RBE. Without any stakes, there really is no motivation to act ethically. However I argue that this is actually a huge advantage of the RBE because its conclusion’s become comparable to the current business climate where we find executives and managers not reflecting on their decisions and not acting in an ethical manner, all because their status entails a lack of personal stakes. When Berg states that “participants often seem to see a clear line between lying in a “game” and lying “in an real business situation”” my mind immediately goes to the 2008 financial recession. Ask yourselves, for the managers and executives of big banks, how was their situation unlike a game? They faced little to no personal consequences and their actions had no personal stakes. Look at the result of that. The RBE brings into question our instinctive actions in the context of a game. I believe this is important for understanding the actions of many of the current powerful financial figures that control so many aspects of our financial lives.
In summary, I agree that the RBE has limitations based on its simplicity and its point system, however, I felt the limitations that were argued were based on misunderstandings of the purpose of the RBE or misinterpretations of the exercise itself. My belief is that the RBE’s relevance, considering our current business climate, overrides these limitations and in some instances, is even strengthened by them.