St. Louis, MO
Posted - 02/02/2011 : 3:18 PM
M$F has their game face on
Motorcyclists, as I said, look at riding as a serious business: the trade off for that exhilarating freedom is the possibility of injury or death. As I said in the last entry, that shapes our reaction to another rider's death, but it's obvious that it also shapes our reaction to whether we wear helmets by choice or by law, what roads we can ride on and where on the roads we can ride, and whether we have the right to repair or modify our motorcycles.
It's never just business or politics. It's personal. Deeply, intimately, profoundly and always personal.
On the other hand, business itself operates more and more by the games metaphor. It's extremely important that rider educators and MRO activists understand this: to a large degree, business people look at business as a game.
"We are graduating about a half million college students with business degrees every year, and this includes 65,000 MBAs who usually go right into management positions," wrote Art Wolfe in 1990. He was editor of Business Horizons at that time. "Implicit in almost all instruction in colleges of business today is that business is game like... managers think and speak about winners, losers, offensive strategies, defensive postures, corporations gaining ground or losing ground, striking out or scoring or hitting it out of the park, and on and on... "
He said business education is all about reducing everything to numbers and seeing competitors as the opponent. Iow, an adversarial mindset. "Students are trained to understand the business environment by seeing humans as units... and students move them around, trade them off, capture or even destroy them... The perspective of the student is that of a coach, high above the playing field in the corporate boardroom maneuvering no name, numbered players down on the field of play. Action is directed by selecting the right strategy or game plan...
This had been the perspective for over ten years at that point, he said. So that means all those business management types who have been working for 25 years or less were schooled in the Great Game of Business, as author Jack Stack refers to it.
So when we talk about Tim Buche, who got his MBA at the University of California, Redlands, or Charlie Fernandez or Sherry Williams, or Lara Lee and the other trustees, we have to remember that they have operated for years in an environment and still do where business is a game.
In fact, according to many critiques, managers are so steeped in it that they cannot even perceive of acting differently or how business could be run differently or that life itself isn't both business and a game.
In Business as Game, numbers are everything. Numbers more reality to those who play it than the actual people those numbers represent. But, as he had said, they're taught that numbers aren't real either even when they represent real human beings; they can be manipulated, maneuvered, reshaped because it's a game. The numbers, though, are what represent success or failure at the end of the quarter, at the end of the fiscal year.
The business mindset, then, automatically reduces consumers or customers to units. It isn't personal, it's just business. But not just units that are translated to numbers but numbers that are malleable and unreal.
But, in the Great Game of Business, because it's about numbers and it is a game, it's part of the game to make the numbers be what the player wants them to be. All that matters is winning, and anything goes as long as one's not caught with merely a paper win. Or, rather, caught by those with authority.
But when real people are seen as units, as numbers on a page, that distances managers from the reality the rest of us live and the consequences of the game managers play. After all, at the end of the game, the shoe and race car and all go back into the box to wait for the next time it's pulled out. There's a new game ball, and if a player is hurt, it doesn't stop the game there's the second string, a pitcher warming up in the background. It's just crunching numbers, not people. Unfortunately, it's real people who sometimes get literally crunched or burned.
Wolfe used the example of executives at the Ford Motor Company and the 180 deaths from exploding Pintos to discuss the failures of Business as Game. "These deaths just did not mean much to them. However, the cost of the change was more immediate; it would probably affect the reputation of their department; perhaps it would even affect them directly."
We know that Buche plays the numbers game whenever his numbers are checked they don't add up except in ways that make him look good. It turns out he was doing this at Suzuki before he became president of the MIC/M$F/SVIA and it drove the dealers that had to deal with him crazy. We've seen how Sherry Williams plays the numbers game with her research. We know the manufacturers are deeply invested in the numbers game to the point of making it merely a shell game forcing dealers to take stock they cannot sell to pump up the appearance that the corporations is doing well in the market share game.
We see how Industry has played the fatality numbers game it's the older rider, the rusty skilled rider who is to blame. So this, especially, is where the motorcycling community and Industry diverge: fatalities aren't just numbers, they're people we knew and cared about, they could be us one day. Riders don't see riders as units. It's personal, not business. Industry doesn't see units as riders. It isn't personal, it's business.
In business as a whole, the game metaphor become more real than reality, though, also has elements of the war and machine metaphors. Back in 1989, John J. Clancy's The Invisible Powers: The Language of Business discussed how these metaphors were already operating. It's clear to me, at least, these elements are still operating today:
What makes the metaphors speak to business are certain attributes. For example, games and war both have goals and difficulty as central aspects. The attributes commonly associated with games as business are: unpredictability; fun teamwork; and leadership.
The attributes of war as business are: the need for a specific kind of leadership as strong, skilled, and courageous; risk; and probably most important, the notion of strategy.
Business is seen as a Machine in terms of a wealth producing tool that has a serious purpose; that there's calculability involved, and a certain amount of predictability.
Sixteen years later, I'd suggest that War, Game and Machine have come together in some mega Frankensteinian metaphor: business as a war game that should be able to be reduced to machine like predictability and efficiency. One could also argue that games particularly professional sports and war have also bought into the same three metaphors. Sports are not only war but a business that should run like a machine. War is a game of strategy that should be run like a business and a machine.
Iow, there's a coalescence, a pooling, of metaphors between business, sports, machine and war so that each evoke elements of the other no matter which one is the subject.
Indeed, sports like football or baseball are the commonly used in business with perhaps poker coming in second and chess a distant third. Team sports are used by superiors to motivate those under them while poker or chess is used by individuals to characterize or justify their actions. The ones at the top, then, operate as if they're strategic players and coaches using the "team" under them to position themselves and their companies. Those in the lower echelons who play the "game" and don't merely work there, also see it as a strategic, adversarial situation where they are team members only insofar as it helps advance their cause. Games within games. Wars within the machine of each business and war between the corporate machines. In business, the battlefield is market share and it is most certainly a war that they are waging.
But games in reality operate by rules - arbitrary ones. There's no intrinsic reason a knight moves the way it does or why you can't move a down marker or why you can't pass go and collect $200. But, if the game isn't played by the rules, it isn't that game. It's a breach of trust, a betrayal of the game itself.
In war, the rules are less arbitrary but there are rules: of engagement and the Geneva Conventions. Breaches there are supposed to have serious consequences.
However, this Frankenstein metaphor of business as war game draws from any and all games, so the knight isn't limited, you can move the down marker, you can collect $200, you can attack civilians, impersonate the enemy whatever it takes to win. Because, of course, it isn't a game or war, it's business. The game metaphor shifts to whatever game has the right rules that allow them to win.
So what's seen as permissible in business? This is from an op ed piece on bridge as a means of training for business in the Nov. 27 issue of the New York Times: The author wrote, "The Warren Buffett you know from business is now the same Warren Buffett I know at the bridge table. And as Warren would tell you, playing bridge is like running a business. It's about hunting, chasing, nuance, deception, reward, danger, cooperation and, on a good day, victory."
Predator behavior. Deception. But in real life, people don't like to be hunted or pursued or have to figure out the nuances. They don't like to be deceived. They tolerate these things in games because they are games. There's a problem then when games become business.
It's a very short step from what this writer touts as admirable in business to what Enron or Worldcom or Millikin or Boesky. But business no longer (if ever) has no inherent rules just the ones that government comes up with or, rather, what business lets the government come up with. After all, one of the primary purposes of MIC is to keep the government from passing legislation that will actually affect them.
But it's this "whatever game that helps me win" that's what gives the modern Corporate General the zest to play it. It's danger, makes it a challenge, isn't it? How far is too far? Bending and breaking the rules one of the most exciting parts of the game. Only it isn't *a* game or even all games, it's supposed to be business.
But this is, in itself, hard for us to fathom because we, too, see business as a game. We can no longer visualize business as anything else than what it is.
In the scheme of things, winning Risk by dubious means doesn't really affect the geo-political balance or world wide economy and building a monopoly doesn't matter if it's just a board game. Bluffing doesn't matter if the stakes are low enough. But what's seen as permissible in one game isn't necessarily permissible in another and certainly not ethical in real life. Yet, this is just one of the negative effects from seeing business as a game: Anything goes if it helps you win. Anything goes, even if illegal or unethical or immoral as long as you don't get caught. It isn't personal, it's business.
The problem with the Great Game of Business drawing as it does from game, war and machine is that all three of the metaphors are distance those that play or wage it from the reality itself. Whether one sees themselves as coach or poker player or chess player, they are above or beyond the game pieces whether those are beefy football players or ebony and ivory figures on a board. The game player certainly is emotionally invested in the game, but not directly physically affected by it. The rewards and failures are experienced at a distance. The generals don't go into war. The one who tends the machine isn't the machine itself. In a real sense, they can only identify with it in terms of winning and losing because they are not in the physical reality of it. As a result, the Frankenstein metaphor washes back on to the individual level and "May the best man win" has become "Whoever wins is the best man."
As a result, I believe, they are distanced even more from the really real and especially from the effects of their actions by bastardizing the metaphor and believing it truly is real. They really are coaches or chess players or generals pitted against opposition and that opposition includes anyone who gets in the way of their winning. We can see this in what happened to giants like Enron, of course, but we can see it in corporations that haven't run afoul of media attention or the law.
What is happening in rider education, then, mirrors what is happening in the United Corporations of America. Industry cannot understand how we view riding. They think they do and try to use it to make us make their numbers look even better, but they simply cannot comprehend motorcycling as anything else but the kind of game they happen to be playing.
But something's happened in business in general as it always does when metaphors are seen as reality. Key components of what made games games and business business and machines machines and war war have been lost or abandoned. The more distant managers get, the more they see business and life as a game, the more "winning is everything." As I said, in part, because that's the only way those at the top really feel connected to the actual reality, but more so because of what business is and has to be business.
Business is business because it's first and last and at every point between about making money and generating cash. That's what makes it business and it's not good or bad it just is. But, when game and war become more than metaphors but ways of perceiving reality and life itself, that changes the nature of business. When MBA's run the show, it's no longer enough to get by to "win" but to dominate, to position the company strategically, to pay more attention to the short term or the mid term rather than the long term. And no one gets promotions, bonuses and stock options or better jobs from protecting the public interests. In fact, they can get fired or lose their business.
As Wolfe went on to write, "So it is not surprising that the managers and designers at Ford made the decision not to correct the design of the Pinto. They were removed from the impact of their decision. They were trained to view human beings as units or numerical symbols of some sort. Their moral sensitivities were attuned to winning. These elements in the business environment contributed to the Ford managers' belief that they could become winners by choosing dollars over lives."
And we see this in the motorcycle industry the BRC won't be improved to help students be better riders as long as it's seen as making better consumers. M$F will do whatever it takes to remove rider ed from non profit sensibilities to the business model because everything non-profit state programs are about is antithetical to what the Great Game of Business is about. Design flaws from translating racing bikes into street bikes won't be corrected simply because they are lethal until Industry is caught by such overwhelming scandal and liability that they must.
So that's the situation, folks: we see riding as innately, intrinsically and profoundly personal. Industry sees it as a game that has only two rules: winning is everything and don't get caught.
When rider education is operated as a business, then business managers will run it. It will become a game because that's what managers and business owners see business as. It's precisely because they see business as truly a game that we who see motorcycling as personal must not allow it.
James R. Davis
Posted - 02/02/2011 : 3:27 PM
| The vast majority of this post by Wendy is pure rubbish.
It demonstrates quite well her anti-capitalism perspective. I don't have the slightest wish to challenge a different belief system than I have, but I do wish to correct misinformation, mistakes, and myths - especially as they relate to motorcycling.
Monopolies are inherently bad - from a market point of view. Wendy attributes what is bad about monopolies to all business - unusually naive thinking on her part.
To suggest that for business 'anything goes - even illegal activities', as she did in her post above, is simply not true. She would admit that she was exaggerating a bit, but only if they were caught at illegal behavior would it be wrong.
She suggests that business is a war game. Not too far off the mark there, but it, too, is an exaggeration. Business is COMPETITION. Without it, nothing changes, nothing gets better, nothing gets cheaper, the mismanaged stay in business, etc.
Well, I'm not here trying to defend business and their practices - I'm merely saying that I resent and will not let stand unchallenged on this site what is mostly rubbis. I certainly don't give Wendy a pass here just because she is deceased.