Cooperation in Competition?

Berg’s analysis of competition in the business world is an intriguing look into how competition is preformed in a non-business setting. The author uses the example of the Red-Blue Exercise to show how two opposing teams compete and sometimes cooperate. The Red-Blue Exercise is an offshoot of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and can reveal much about cooperation, competition, and ability of some to deceive even if it’s simply to punish or put down the opposing team. Overall, I find the author’s argument and evidence strong but there are some issues in her not fully explaining the results of the exercise. 

Although Berg emphasizes that competition is important in business, she also stresses the importance of cooperation and reflection. As the author states in the opening paragraph, “when we encounter unfamiliar or threatening situations, we automatically respond defensively, engaging in competitive rather than cooperative behaviour” (Berg, 176). This is where the Red-Blue Exercise comes in. Theoretically, this game should make participants reflect on their decisions before making decisions. I believe that this is something that is missing not only in business competition, but competition as a whole. I feel that sometimes people including myself  don’t view their competition as people they can cooperate with for mutual benefit. 

Overall, I agree with Berg’s conclusion that people faced with the unknown become defensive and therefore more likely to compete without reflecting or cooperating. Generally, it seems that in competition (including business competition), we are more likely to have a reaction that, as Berg puts it, is more “knee-jerk” than reflective. If people were to ponder and asses the pros and cons a competitive situation rather than going, they perhaps could end up cooperating with the opposing side, which would end up benefiting them both. The Red-Blue Exercise gives the chance for the opposing teams come together and cooperate, and the outcomes show that when the opposing teams hatch a plan on which colour to choose in the next round, the outcome for both teams would be better. This is what leads me to support the Red-Blue Exercise, because being too entrenched in competition could lead competitors to miss out on potential gains from cooperation. When one team decides to deceive the other, they risk hurting their own cause. As Berg states: “They engaged in competition, took their revenge, and actually hurt themselves. Their final score was +3 when it could have been +9” (Berg, 184).

Although I agree with Berg’s points and the Red-Blue Exercise as a whole, I find problems in her explanations of the findings. Berg tends to use words like “usually” a lot in the essay. For example, Berg describes that “If they demonstrate to each other this mutual understanding of the situation and agree that they need to cooperate in order to achieve a positive score, they usually agree to choose Red for the next four rounds” (Berg, 181). Although this may be the case from a general standpoint, it raises my eyebrows that the author did not go into the alternative, or at least explain that if they didn’t agree to choose Red, than it would be an anomaly. Tt seems that Berg’s generalizations are an escape from going into more detail. This is only one of many examples where Berg generalizes in such a way, and it is somewhat frustrating that she doesn’t explore the alternatives to the generalizations.

3 Comments

  1. Hi kostaxinos6906,
    I enjoyed reading this post because you were able to give a lot of your own insight and perspectives into Berg’s piece which made it a very interesting read. I agree with what you mean about competition being something that people do not expect at times and that would lead them to not reflect before they act. Also, how when people become too drawn to this idea of competition they become blind to what they could potentially gain compared to lose. I was wondering if you could explain a bit more to me about what you mean by the generalization of “usually” in the article and if you have any alternatives she could have used instead?
    Shaina

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  2. Hi @kostaxinos6906,
    Thanks for your post I really enjoyed reading it. I agree with you that the issues that arise from reacting competitively when threatened are seen in areas outside of business competition. I also agree that this competitive reaction can be somewhat controlled with reflection. I am interested to know if you feel that training business employees to be more reflective is an effective solution to the problem of competitive decision making? And, I am wondering if you think that this problem would be better addressed if it was treated as a systemic issue that involved radically rethinking the structure of businesses.

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