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Games are a Reflection of Behavior as Told by John Satta

You are standing on a small stage yelling, “What's the name of the game?!” “Win as much as you can!!!” comes roaring back. “Who's responsible for your score?!” “I am!!” The audience is composed of ninety men, all prisoners in a federal maximum security prison. One more thing - you're a woman. For three years, Alicia volunteered every Thursday at FCI (Federal Correctional Institute) in Bastrop, Texas- “I used my skills as a corporate trainer to help these men learn to shift their perspective on themselves and the world.” “Along the way the prisoners taught me as much, perhaps more, than I taught them.” “In my training business, I use games as a way to break down barriers and shift perceptions.

What I came to realize is that your behavior in a game is an exaggerated reflection of your behavior in real life.” Games are an opening to behave true to our natures, to react immediately rather than with a careful response. Depending on the other players, we may monitor our behavior less in a game than in the real world, but we aren't acting differently. In a game there are no emotional holds barred. In a game, we are allowed to be more right brained than logical.

After all, “It's only a game.” Saying something is only a game tends to trivialize its importance. Precisely because we view it as trivial, and of no importance, we can give ourselves permission to let our true natures out. When we floated this idea before a number of colleagues, several of them told us stories of self-discovery. One woman, a very sweet and kind person in “real life”, was known as “the enforcer” when she played hockey in school. Another shared that, when she plays a game against total strangers she becomes “brutal” and highly competitive. So if our true nature comes out in a game, what can we do with that information? Can we transform situations so that we can be true to our nature? Can we make a game out of real world situations to allow our true nature to flourish? The obvious example is to view business as a game to be won. This implies competition and a winner take all attitude. Yet Covey and others have told us about creating win-win situations. Is there such a thing as a win-win game - a game where everyone wins, where no one loses? Can you devise a game where you can put your competitive streak toward a larger goal? Can the proverbial pie be made larger? As someone said to me, to transform from “me winning” to “we winning”.

What's the name of the game? Win as much as you can! Who's responsible for your score? I am! The game Alicia played with the inmates was called “the handshake game”. She had them pair up by size, height and weight and explained the rules. “We'll play the game for 45 seconds. You get one point when your hand taps his hip; he gets one point when his hand taps your hip.” The vast majority of the pairs had a combined score of 0 points. A few pairs scored in the 10 - 20 point range. But one pair scored 260 points. The high scorers had realized that the name of the game and scoring responsibility did not define a win-lose (or “zero-sum”) game. That is, one person did not win at the expense of the other. Of course, the entire thing was a set-up.

Alicia paired them up by size, height and weight to set the expectation that it was an evenly matched contest. She got them chanting to get their excitement up. And she neglected to tell them that the pair was a team and the team members' scores would be combined. “Deliberately I didn't tell them they were supposed to cooperate with their partner. I also never told them who the competitors were.” We all know that a “formal” team must cooperate to win. The revelation here was that by cooperating they could maximize their individual scores. What's the name of the game? Win as much as you can! Who's responsible for your score? I am! The rules say nothing about preventing the other person from getting a high score. The pair who “got it” quickly settled into a rhythm of “one for you and one for me”. And they could have kept that up for as long as the game ran.

Meanwhile, the other teams were struggling and would have exhausted themselves long before the winners did. And, when the few teams who did spot the pair who “got it” there were charges of “cheating” leveled at them. “We saw what they were doing but thought they were cheating or didn't understand the rules.” The cooperation - competition confusion is nicely summed up in the concept called “the prisoners' dilemma”. Two people are arrested for a crime and there is enough evidence to put them both in jail for 1 year. The police keep them isolated from each other and offer each the same deal: “If one of you talks and the other does not, the snitch goes free and the other one gets 3 years. If you both talk, you both get 2 years.” The partners can work together (by staying silent) and both get only a year in jail. By both defecting from the partnership to work with the police they will both get 2 years.


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