A Practical Display of Ethics

Today in my strategy class we did an interesting in class exercise, whereby our group of eight students was split into four teams of two, where one student played the role of the ‘decision maker’ and one student played the role of an ‘advisor’. Each team was given the mutual objective of gaining points (shown below in the table). Each team was given two cards, a red card and a yellow card, and was able to gain or lose points based upon the decision that the team was to make. After having some time to strategize, the teams were supposed to pick a card and then all four teams revealed their choice of card simultaneously. Points were then given based upon the choices of the cards, and this was then repeated for about five rounds. There were five scenarios which could have been observed.

Card Choices Points given

Scenario 1: 4 yellow cards +25 for all teams

Scenario 2: 3 yellow cards -25

1 red card +75

Scenario 3: 2 yellow cards -50

2 red cards +50

Scenario 4: 1 yellow card -75

3 red cards +25

Scenario 5: 4 red cards -25 for all teams


The optimal situation, of course, would be for all teams to work together to ensure that everyone would get points (ie. 4 yellow cards means +25 points for all teams). I was chosen during the class to be one of the decision makers of the team. The time was coming to make my first selection and the result was not quite what I had expected. We witnessed scenario four with me staring at three red cards with a yellow card in my hand. “Hmm,” I thought, “I guess there are many lessons to be learned here.” After a couple rounds, my first realization was that everyone in the teams was willing to cheat. Therefore, I don’t think the outcomes of the next rounds were too much of a surprise; all the teams chose red cards so that no teams were able to gain points anymore but actually lost points. It might be easy to say that ideally everyone should work together so that everyone would have the opportunity to earn points, but in practice this notion is much more challenging than at first glance. The competitiveness of human nature often times leads us to want our competitors to lose; however, in this case, their loss meant my team’s loss as well. I believe the class walked out of this exercise with a valuable lesson that day, a lesson not in theory but in ethics. In my opinion this exercise was an illustration of the opportunities and also the dangers of ethical choices that business people make everyday, and this is a topic which merits much deliberation.

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