Gaming the System

Seth Godin wrote this week about working within the system rather than trying to game the system in his post, The Spirit of the Game.  But what happens when the system is broken or outdated?  How about real estate? Few people want to pay a broker to help them buy, yet because even the most conscientious brokers work on contingency, they have a bias toward making a deal.  That puts them in partial service to a seller- any seller.  Financial services?  Capital markets?  Health care?  All systems that invite blowing up with a better idea.

When primary motivations for those in a system conflict with the outcomes that the system is there to produce, there will always be those who can figure out how to cheat the system for personal gain.  Nowhere is this more obvious than in the focus on wealth in executive compensation.  The circle used to be virtuous.  Stockholders and the board took care of executives by providing capital needed for operational growth.  Executives took care of employees by providing the tools and environment needed to do their job.  Employees took care of customers who in turn took care of stockholders by buying products.

But the emphasis on options has changed that.  Heavy use of options encourages executives to take care of shareholders (themselves), making decisions that drive market cap.  Employees spend more time reporting to take care of executives…  leaving no one to take care of customers.

People game a system for one of two reasons: 

  1. They are inherently dishonest and arrogant believing that rules do not apply to them.  (In which case they will try to cheat any system with which they come in contact.)
  2. Or, they feel it is impossible to get what they need from the current system.  (I finally walked into a local Comcast office and insisted on talking to the general manager.  Did I feel entitled to special treatment?  No.  I just had been unable to get our service rain-proofed through Comcast’s system for over a year.)

If you find people are trying to get around your system of doing work (collecting resumes for recruitment, technical support, service call scheduling, transaction processing, purchasing, you name it!) you also have two choices:

  1. You can assume that they are all felons trying to cheat any system for their own gain and do your best to lock them out.
  2. Or, you can remember that they are your customers and consider that the system in place is inadequate to getting the job done.