Business is not a game.

“In recent years, we’ve become accustomed to using games as a model for understanding institutional behavior,” said Peter French, director of applied ethics at Arizona State University, Lincoln. Business as a game style has undoubtedly become ubiquitous in business language and culture. Although this linguistic tool is useful for explaining many business concepts such as competition, hierarchical structures, and goal achievement, business as a game style is not always morally neutral and can be fraught with ethical dilemmas. In fact, I mostly believe that this style sets up a clear error.

The business like game style explores the critical difference between the metaphorical renter and vehicle. While games are autonomous, the business cannot be an independent activity as it is deeply intertwined with the rest of society. A game is simply an independent bubble that people can voluntarily choose to enter knowing what rules apply there, and often people participate in games for personal enjoyment. After all, if someone doesn’t like or disagree with the rules of the game, he or she has the power to just sit the game out. But getting out of the economic system is not easy. Trade and commerce are undeniably parts of everyone’s life. There isn’t that much voluntariness associated with it because opting out means total self-isolation and choosing a radical disconnect from modern corporate practices.

Another important issue is how using the business as a game style can lose sight of what is really at stake. In any game, from poker to football, almost always the players who have the greatest influence on the outcome of the game are the players who choose to be there and understand the value and risk of the game. In business, however, the narrative is much more complicated. If you think of trading as a game, the process of finding victory or outrunning an opponent, it’s easy to forget that trading plays a bigger part than most people’s understanding of the game. These high stakes can affect the health, well-being and quality of life of many constituencies. Take the Bhopal disaster for example. A few wrong decisions by the executives of a single corporation spewed 40 tons of poisonous gas from the factory, killing thousands of people. Thirty-seven years after the incident, the 70-acre plot of land in Bhopal remains largely unchanged and still contains hundreds of tonnes of contaminated waste, posing a serious threat to the health of nearby villagers. Businesses are “entirely in the realm of humanity” and a game affects a wider range of real and complex human lives than ever before.

Another concern is that the trade as a game style temporarily paints the fake business’s nature. Games cannot be endless; They have a clear beginning, middle and end. Business practices cannot be so clearly excluded. Practitioners in a corporate community may focus on short-term wins, but the quarter’s positive return achievement may be driven by other social or ethical concerns. The short-term, game-like thinking that rewards the marketplace is not always in the long-term interests of the larger community or the corporation. A trade has no clear ending, but the game style suggests an artificial conclusion.

Going forward, the critical failure of business as a game style is that it attempts to separate moral spheres by implying that there is a set of ethics for business that is separate from the set of ethics that operate in everyday social life. By making business ethics as self-evident as the rules of the game, corporations become morally accountable to the normative sources of ethics in society. Once business is nominally understood as an institution composed of a class of morally irresponsible “business professionals,” the superimposition of a strong metaphorical understanding of business as a game reinforces the differentiation and division of ethical aspects. .

All in all, this delving into the structural differences between business and games has shown that business as a style of play is not entirely adequate, and is associated with an ethical dilemma. The games are fun, have sensible rules, and hold the promise of glorious victory. But as businesses try to communicate their identity through vision and mission statements, ethical practices often require more than just playing the game. As the French philosopher Roger Caillois states in his work “Man, Plan and Games,” “This is where the real problem begins.” It should not be forgotten that adults themselves play complex, varied, and sometimes dangerous games that are seen as games. Although fate and life may involve one in comparable activities, the game differs from them in that it takes life less seriously than the game the player is addicted to. The game remains separate, closed and in principle without any significant impact on the stability and continuity of collective and institutional existence.

Krista Akiki is a senior majoring in business analytics and minoring in computer and digital technologies. She grew up in Beirut, Lebanon and returned to the United States to pursue her undergraduate degree. She loves learning new languages, traveling and of course trying new foods. She seeks adventure and new experiences and hopes to share these with readers through her writing. She can be reached at or @kristalourdesakiki on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of observers.


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