RBE- Common ideas in Competiton

Roberta Berg’s research article presents her take on competition and co-operation very narrowly with reference to businesses. To illustrate her argument, she uses the RBE (Red-Blue Experiment) Berg, a version of the prisoner’s dilemma where the aim was to score the highest possible positive value. It was however, a hard result to come across despite making communication an option where one delegate from each team could discuss strategy every 4 rounds. I found the article insignificant in terms of providing insight that justified its title of knowing when to co-operate and compete. The article’s analysis was a bit obvious and felt a bit common-place especially considering how closely it resembled Tajfel and Turner’ minimal groups study  which showcased matrices analyzing maximum in group-gain and inter-group gain.

Berg does put forth a number of rhetorical moves which support her argument to a limited extent. She focuses on how competitive spirits override cooperation even though our logical response would be to co-operate as competition is known to be counter-productive. This is supported by Argyris and Schon (1996) . She also highlights the main issue in regards to human behavior, being that we impulsively act without thinking through decisions and calculating the maximum benefit we actually receive from our actions. She backed up this claim with Table 1 of the RBE. Berg attempts to create a progression from outlining the experiment to describing four factors that are usually taken into consideration while making a well-informed decision.  The four factors: reflection, fair play, trust, and ethical behaviour.

My take away from this article is that Berg did attempt to make a distinction between competition and co-operation in business however, much of the article itself was not clear enough to make a consistent argument that supported its title. The title itself suggests that the author will be exploring the question of when to co-operate and compete. A reductionist method of solving this question was adopted by Berg as she used the RBE to portray that we don’t always calculate our decisions. As a result, she found that most teams engaged in competition instead of co-operation and both teams lost. This is a concept that is very similarly explored in behavioural economics. Basic assumptions in introductory economics expect we make decisions that weigh up all the benefits of an action and act in a way that maximizes net utility. I can agree therefore that Berg has tried to portray a valid picture of decision-making processes and its effects as his article however aligns itself with behavioural economics which challenges this assumption. While I do believe this was valiant effort, Berg’s means of justifying his original argument was inadequate in the specific ways mentioned below:

  • Berg argued that “Knowledge of a theory does not necessarily lead to practice”. This was in reference to individuals who had heard of the prisoner’s dilemma case and had still achieved negative scores despite knowing what the right action was. While his claim has some truth to it, we must also consider whether the practice accounted for in the first place as we see no account of exceptions being accounted for. Additionally, people who knew about the theory were more likely to do better at the task skewing results of the study but it isn’t clear whether this variability was accounted for either.
  • Berg also argues that the results of her study were due to decisions being made without teams being given opportunities to build upon trust. However I believe that it could be argued that trust is not constrained to one-to-one meetings in high-pressure environments . Individual factors such as race, ethnicity and language influence a person’s perceptions on whether or not you can trust them and could very well manipulate how teams followed up with their word as shown in Table 4 (RBE).

Overall, the article was a very general depiction of the prisoner’s dilemma with little new additions to contribute towards the discourse community specific to businesses.  Berg does not quantify his results accurately and this is seen clearly when he considers the ethical debate that would arise when teams would initially meet and agree on one colour only to go back and shift stances in deception. When stating the results, Berg uses the words ‘occasionally’ and ‘most teams’ to depict the variety of results which does not add to knowledge because of its vagueness leaving any audience pondering about the extent to which the ‘most’ and occasionally’ is true of the entire sample set of participants. “The wisdom to know when” isn’t touched upon as Berg does not work towards hypothesizing particular reasons for the varying attitudes and hence doesn’t justify his argument in the best way possible.  The author also notably reaches extreme generalized conclusions without taking into account extraneous variables and individual differences that could have affected the experiment as is pointed out by Andrzej Wierzba who argued that motivators in the form of incentives were lacking overall which are also individual differences that must be accounted for.


Photo Caption– Credits to the featured image




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