Home > Business, Leadership > When the cheater is one of us

When the cheater is one of us

If you want to learn more about the human mind and how we behave, I can highly recommend following Predictable/Irrational, which includes discussions of both rational and irrational behavior. Because what’s the difference between rational and irrational? Often it’s history. Like Bohr put it: it’s easy to make predictions if it’s about the past. In other words, it’s easy to afterwards say that something was irrational: when you’re in that situation everything might seem perfectly rational.

The latest post was about cheating and as always, I recommend that you read the complete post, but one thing really struck me and that is that we tend to cheat more if we think that one of us is already cheating.

In a study that may parallel [my note: Bernie] Madoff’s cheating was used as egregious dishonesty, we again gave the participants the opportunity to cheat, while solving a puzzle quiz — but this time we hired an actor. This actor, posing as a fellow participant, stood up at the start of the session and declared that he had solved all the puzzles. Now the question is how his behavior would influence the other participants in the room — the ones who were watching him.

What we found is that when the actor wore a plain T-shirt, which made him part of the student group, cheating increased. On the other hand, when the actor wore a T-shirt of the rivaling university, cheating decreased. What this means is that when someone who is part of our own social group cheats, we find it more acceptable to cheat, but when people who are not part of our social group cheat, we want to distance ourselves from these people and cheat less.

So, how does this apply to software development? Writing bad code or skipping the tests or just making the bad quick fixes can be seen as a way of cheating. Also, taking on tasks which are not on the sprint backlog. Or spending your working time doing personal stuff. You don’t do the tasks properly. And one conclusion that you can draw is that if one does this, it becomes OK among the others. Given that it’s one of the team members who skips the rules. So, who are you? Are you one of the guys spreading the idea that it’s OK to cheat on your team?

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