Deception In Business

Does anyone have any thoughts on the role of deception in business? I have this thing, I want to be honest in all my dealings. I do, however, practice deception fiercely when engaged in sports or strategy games. To me this is perfectly OK because all participants share a context that 'this is a game', and deception is an understood part of winning the game.

How about business? When I walk in the door of my place of employment, should I switch contexts to 'game mode'? I have not, so far, done this, and I find the politics that go on in corporations very wearing.

Perhaps I need to relax and play the game a little? Or perhaps I am right to be disturbed by what I see?


It all depends on your point of view: In a game, the object is to make sure that you win and your opponent loses.

What about non zero-sum games?

In a game, the object is to make sure that you win as much as is legally, morally and ethically possible, your allies win as much as is reasonable and convenient and your enemies lose as much as is reasonable and convenient.

Adding the ally concept makes being a team player a positive and desirable strategy, which is a good thing since software development is a team sport. Adding the reasonable and convenient clause for enemies is a reminder to get on with one's life, often revenge just isn't worth the trouble. -- DonaldMcLean

I think an important part of the "ethics" of business is deciding who to treat as an ally and who to treat as an enemy. As long as you treat your customers and other people in your organization as allies, then I think you are playing by the rules. In addition, I don't think that making your enemies lose as much as possible is part of the object of any game. Winning is enough, and in fact, I don't mind losing a game as long as I enjoyed the experience and made some friends along the way. --KrisJohnson


The key, I think, is to know what 'win' means for you. There's a story that goes with this:

One fine day, playing a networked wargame (anyone remember "Empire Deluxe?") against LeoScott, I had a clear material advantage and was using it in the finest American style, trading lives for territory. Leo didn't stand a chance, and I didn't understand his cheery disposition in the face of inevitable defeat. Finally, one turn came where I lost many coastal cities to a simultaneous, multi-front, sneak attack. Leo counted coup in a move that could not possibly win the game according to the rules, but which gave him a win better than that. That's when I learned the meta-rule: You get to define what 'win' means for you. --WayneConrad

I want to be proud of what I do. I want to be able to say I did that. I have done work for my government, so I can deal with being responsible for creating and maintaining deception. The problem I have with deception in business is that the business people want it both ways. They want me to lie to the customer AND have us act within the team like we aren't. When I go to my boss and say "the spec says must do X and we don't do X", I can handle telling the truth. I can handle telling a lie (if it hurts the client in a way that I can not agree with I will leave). What I can not handle lying to ourselves. When you are lying to yourself you can not connect with your best. You can not even talk about the problem. Very bad. It sucks the energy out of you. --LeoScott


Leo - just for clarification - when you say 'lying to ourselves' do you mean Neither (although they are important topics). I mean that as a team we have been directed to tell the customer something that is not true (our software does X) without the team management taking responsibility for lying to the customer. If the topic is brought up in a meeting it is brushed off and now we are stuck dealing with this lie without support. What do we do? Muddle around on some personal direction trying to balance the problems. Unhappy with any result because they all fail to fit because you are both lying and not lying.


It's OK to lie. Lots of people do it.

It's OK to kill. Lots of people do it.


See Michael Schrage's comments on the 'rampant dishonesty' in our industry at http://www.computerworld.com/news/1999/story/0,11280,33849,00.html


See also SoftwareLies

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