“One-upmanship” in Business

In a business aspect, decision-making is often a skill that is preferred. Making a reflective decision is important in making the right business choice for long-term goals. Unfortunately, humans have been raised to be instinctively competitive and defensive. I find that people in this environment struggle to find a way to cooperate rather than competing with each other because they want to be better than their competitors. Berg would like to say that competition is necessary and required in some cases. She found that people do not willingly cooperate without trust because they are constantly trying to seek revenge for those who have done them wrong. The test that was conducted was the Red-Blue Exercise, that followed most of the principles in the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Berg raises awareness on reflective decision making where we need to be aware of our present state of minds. I would like to point out that Berg does a good job discussing this idea of reflective decision making. I think it is a valuable trait to be able to reflect which decision would benefit the most in terms of long-term goals. Through the study of Red-Blue Exercise, I agree with most of the findings; that people eventually want to deceive and lie to each other to get the biggest benefit. The exercise pointed out that in the case that both teams are either in the negative or in the positive score, one team will always want to be better than the other and therefore betray or turn on their agreement. They enter this cycle where one team wants more than the other team and the other team wants to punish the other for betraying them. I find that wanting more than another team is something that is instinctive to us and something that is hard for us to control. Berg also mentioned that participants who were aware of the Prisoner’s Dilemma theory struggled to even act cooperatively. I find that this is because we are in this realm of interpreting most exercise as a competitive one rather than cooperative one.

In the case of the Red-Blue Exercise, the two teams will most likely both finish with a negative score. In this case, none of them would have really reached their objective because of competition being an obstacle. The team with the higher point will although be more satisfied because they had a higher score than the other team. Bateson in her speech mentioned that we must learn to live together in a biosphere. I think this is an important lesson to learn especially once we understand that we are built to compete. We as humans want to be better than each other in most cases, and turn exercises like the Red-Blue Exercise into competitions when they weren’t meant to be. I agree with Kate in her post where competition has a very constructive role in business. In my workplace, we practice competition fiercely. The ideal of moving up in the business is based on whether you can be a team player, but mostly on how much more you stand out from your other colleagues. In this work environment, we are always trying to do things that are better than the other and to receive recognition for doing so.

The Red-Blue Exercise demonstrates this idea that we are built on competition and instinctively defend ourselves in the case of betrayal. The Exercise also outlined a remarkable difference on how much better both teams did when cooperating after building trust and how their scores deteriorated with the presence of competition, envy, and betrayal. At the end of the Red-Blue Exercise, everything is still real life. These decisions we have made in this exercise that was turned into a competition will affect how other people see us and therefore, affect our networking.

Image: https://weeklytimes.com.au/jbs-world-the-political-game-of-one-upmanship/


  1. I really liked your blog post! It’s interesting that no matter how hard each of the teams tried they ended up with bad results. It’s interesting how people automatically become competitive even when they were unsure about the experiment, and just assumed it was about winning. Do you think we are taught to be competitive or are forced to become competitive when in dire scenarios, such as limited supplies?

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  2. Thank you for your interesting commentary on Berg’s article. I enjoyed reading your personal insights regarding competition in businesses – specifically your own experiences working for a business. Also, I’d like to bring forth @melaniechen9985‘s comment and the question “Do you think we are taught to be competitive or are forced to become competitive when in dire scenarios, such as limited supplies?”.

    This question seems to tie into the psychological and biological roots of competition in humans, and how those roots can be seen in modern businesses. Interestingly, we are beginning to question if competition is natural and instinctive or if it is man-made. This is a question which we ask ourselves after every reading in this class. But after reading Berg’s article, your commentary, and @melaniechen9985‘s comment, there seems to be an agreement that both competition and cooperation is instinctive to humans, and the environment we are put in allocates whichever response is best. Usually, in business, there is limited money, limited job positions, and limited opportunities, so this scarcity of resources in our primitive mind would lead to competition. What do you think about this conclusion?



  3. Hi melaniechen9985,
    I think that we are taught to be competitive naturally. So maybe in the workplace we are instinctively acting competitive, rather than being forced to? The situation may act as a catalyst for workers to act in a competitive behaviour, but I definitely think it is something that is taught to us when we were younger.


  4. Hi Charles M. Bate,
    I agree with you in the fact that competition and cooperation comes instinctively to us. I do agree that the environment does cause different people to act in different ways. With the scarcity of resources in businesses, I agree with what you say in how it makes workers act in a more competitive behaviour.


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