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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Cheat Codes: Friend or Foe

One chapter in my book Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning that generates a lot of interest is Chapter 5. In that chapter, I discuss the value of Cheat Codes and how encouraging gamers to use cheat codes can have a positive impact.

Here is an excerpt from that chapter about the positive value of "cheating."

One example of how cheating can enhance an organization is explained in a book titled Ideas are Free. The book describes the system by which Boardroom, Inc., a publisher of direct mail newsletters and books, encourages employee ideas. The CEO put in place a policy stating that employees who failed to give an average of at least two improvement ideas each week lost their quarterly bonuses.

The authors were shocked that seemed pretty drastic. The authors asked the CEO how many times bonuses were withheld and he said “none.” Every employee, for seven years, had produced two ideas per week without fail.

The authors were skeptical. Every employee had come up with two ideas every week for seven years, how could this be true? So they did some investigation and found a black market of ideas had emerged within the company. An employee who was short an idea could barter and trade for an idea to be paid back later with another idea.

The authors couldn’t believe all the cheating that was occurring. Being good consultants and knowing who was paying the bill, the authors went directly to the CEO with this scandalous information; a black market of ideas. No wonder everyone had two new ideas per week, they were cheating.

When confronted with this startling information the CEO replied, “of course I know about this, but I think it’s great.“ The authors were shocked, the CEO continued, “We have succeeded in creating a culture that values ideas and gets people to share and communicate them. Wasn’t that the goal in the first place?”

The CEO had used “cheating” to his advantage. The employees were sharing and exchanging as many ideas as possible every week. They were focused on the exchange of ideas for the betterment of the company. If a situation can be set up properly, “cheating” actually becomes a valuable tool in helping to form a corporate culture.
Can you encourage constructive "cheating" in your organization? How do you ensure ideas are exchanged before, during and after learning event? Should we reward work done in isolation when collaboration seems to be required for any long term success?

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1 comment:

Benjamin Hamilton said...


This was one of my favorite chapters of the book as well. There is always a sense of excitement if you work around the system and you feel like you are "sticking it to the man" (I'm reminded of a certain Sprint commercial).

You can certainly create a culture of "constructive cheating" (your example is excellent), but the consequences need to be thought through. Using the example you mentioned, if employees believed that the unused bonuses (i.e. the ones for those who did not contribute two ideas) would be redistributed to those who did contribute ideas, I would suspect there would be a different culture (one that is more competition-driven). I don't view cheating and competition as an either-or...both can exist, but they have some tendencies that may cancel each other out.

For your last question, I'm always amazed that in formal education, working on assignments together and sharing information is called "cheating"; however, in the business world it is called "collaboration". Of course, measure need to be taken in group assignments as well because we all know of folks who are all too comfortable with letting other do the work.