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NASAGA's 50th Anniversary Conference in Columbus, OH
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bits of serendipity to inspire and motivate
fuel for your own continuous learning
tips and tricks you can try today
|No, Gracias||The (Honest)Truth About Dishonesty||Can You Predict Dishonesty?|
Looked through your [October 2012] newsletter and went to the Groupworks site. What an amazing resource. It was great for me to just go through the cards and see what are perspectives I normally bring to the group consciously and unconsciously, and which ones were blind spots for me.
Very comprehensive in scope, and an obvious labor of love.
-- Jim Clark
Sorry to break the news but you probably are dishonest more often than you realize. We'll explore this phenomenon by reviewing Dan Ariely's new book but we'll begin with this story in exactly 99 words.
A txoco is a Basque club where thirty or more friends cook and feast for up to 6 hours. The food just keeps coming. After only the second course, my belt was ready to burst. "Leave something on your plate so people don't try to keep filling it," my wife advised.
Sounds like the office: pretend to be busy so the boss doesn't ladle more onto your plate!
Do we encourage people to lie to protect their "waistline?" A clean plate could also mean they're evaluating their latest efforts, getting ready for a new project, resting, digesting.
(Honest)Truth About Dishonesty
How We Lie to Everyone - Especially Ourselves
By Dan Ariely
If you think you're not a cheater you are only being dishonest with yourself.
That's just one truth that quickly becomes evident in Dan Ariely's book The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. Ariely, who has also written Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality, shares his research into the reasons we cheat, the factors that keep us from cheating more, and the conditions that might make the world a more honest place.
Ariely's examination of dishonesty begins by challenging "The Simple Model of Rational Crime" first outlined by Nobel laureate Gary Becker. This model assumes that people decide whether to commit a crime by conducting a rational cost-benefit analysis. If the benefit of stealing or cheating outweighs the risk of being caught or the cost of punishment, we will do the misdeed. But Ariely argues that our motivations for cheating or lying are much more complex than Becker's model suggests.
Through a variety of experiments, Ariely shows that, given the opportunity, most of us will cheat. But his research also shows that when we do cheat, we don't cheat very much. In one experiment, people were paid for each math puzzle they solved. When they could report their own score, most people reported solving more than those whose scores were tallied by the experimenter. However, people only over reported their score by a small amount - even when it would have been possible to cheat a lot.
Ariely explains that our motivation to cheat or lie for personal gain is offset by our desire to see ourselves as honest, honorable, upstanding citizens. In one experiment, two individuals each made twenty taxi rides to the same destination. One person was consistently overcharged by a small amount. The other person was never overcharged; she was blind. The cab drivers chose not to take advantage of her.
We are more likely to be dishonest when there is a conflict of interest, when we are tired or fatigued, and when others, especially people from our "in" group whom we respect, are dishonest. Highly creative people may more readily be dishonest because they are able to spin a tail in their own mind to justify their actions.
We can promote honesty by asking people to take a pledge of ethics, having them sign their name to a document before completing it, and by reminding them of moral and ethical standards.
Interestingly, the amount of money to be gained or the probability of being caught had no impact on the likelihood or the degree of cheating in Ariely's research!
Yes, given the right situations we all are dishonest. As the 99-Word Story above indicates, these situations can come up as often as we sit at table with friends! The little lies may seem trivial but, as Ariely points out, they may actually be quite dangerous. Every time we fudge the truth, we invent a little explanation to excuse ourselves. Ariely's research reveals that each untruth makes a subsequent lie more likely - until the one person we most often deceive is ourselves!
The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely, HarperCollins, 2010, ISBN: 978-006-218359-0
Only when I had reread my notes from The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, did I realize how much of the book is actually focused on motivation. Ariely is really asking why we choose to lie and his experiments explore the situations, conditions, and environmental factors that fuel our dishonesty.
When it comes to motivation, we often think of rewards and punishments - carrots and sticks - that appeal to our sense of pleasure or fear. Yet Ariely found that these inducements had little effect on cheating. Even when the chance of getting caught was nonexistent and the potential payoff was very high, people never cheated as much as they could have. They always seemed to restrain themselves and only cheat a "reasonable amount."
In his book, Why We Do What We Do, psychologist Edward Deci makes a distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. Extrinsic motivation is "outside" the individual. Like rewards and punishments, extrinsic motivation is imposed by someone else; we react to avoid pain and receive pleasure.
Intrinsic motivation, in contrast, comes from within and is controlled by the individual. With intrinsic motivators, Deci says we act because we want to exercise our autonomy, because we want to connect to a larger purpose, or because we want to use skills with which we are competent and confident.
(Dan Pink, author of Drive, also explores the contrasts between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Read my review of his book in the March 2010 issue of The Firefly News Flash where you can also find an activity related to intrinsic motivation by Fran Kick, an educator of youth-serving professionals.)
At the end of Ariely's book, there is a table contrasting the conditions that make for easy cheating and those that promote honesty. Asking people to take a pledge of honesty, having them sign a form, and reminding them of moral obligations - conditions that decrease dishonesty - all have clear connections to the intrinsic motivator of purpose. In addition, many of the conditions that promote dishonesty have an element of intrinsic motivation that could be tapped to dissuade someone from cheating. For example, the ability to rationalize one's behavior is really an attempt to argue against one's internal sense of purpose.
For all the time and energy we spend on rewards and punishments to control dishonesty, we could do much more by focusing on intrinsic motivation. Expanding our view of motivation beyond carrots and sticks provides additional insight for Dan Ariely's experiments about why we cheat and suggests concrete ways to help them us honest.
Can You Predict
Are you interested in leading a conversation about dishonesty in your organization or at your dinner table? Start with a description of one of Dan Ariely's experiments:
Do you think people tend to cheat if they have the chance? If so, do you think they cheat a lot or a little?
Describe Ariely's experiment:
People were told they could earn up to $10 for solving a series of math puzzles within a time limit. The more puzzles they solved, the more they would be paid.
For one group at the end of the time period, the experimenter took their paper, tallied their score, and paid them.
Another group tallied their own score, shredded their paper (to destroy any evidence) and told the experiment their score. The experimenter then paid them.
Ask for predictions:
The first group did not have a chance to cheat but the second group did. If you were in the second group, would you cheat by claiming to have solved more puzzles than you really had? If so, by how much? What do you think the people in the experiment did?
Share the actual results:
In the experiments, people in the second group did inflate their scores but only by an average of two more puzzles than the control group. (The average increase in puzzles solved was a result of small increases over many rather than from just a few people who cheated a lot.)
Give another example:
The experimenters had other questions. Would people cheat more if they could get more? In other versions, they offered different amounts of cash for correct puzzle solving. Some people got as little as 25 cents for each puzzle while others got as much as $10 for each puzzle solved!
Ask for predictions:
What do you think happened? Did people cheat more when they could get more money?
Share the actual results:
In the experiment, the people who cheated only added an average of two puzzles to their score regardless of how much money they would have been paid. In fact, the amount of cheating went down slightly for the group that received the biggest $10 payout!
Discuss some of these questions:
- How do you explain that people inflated their scores when they had a chance to cheat?
- How do you explain that people limited the degree of their dishonesty when they could have gotten away with a lot more? What other situations does this remind you of?
- What opportunities for cheating or dishonesty exist in your work setting, at home, in other areas of your life?
- What keeps people from cheating in these other situations - or what makes cheating more possible if it does occur?
- How much would you agree that dishonesty is a matter of degree? For example, if you take a pencil from the office, is that being dishonest? What if you take ten pencils? What if you take ten boxes of pencils?
- What's your "red line" of where a white lie turns to black?
- How does dishonesty affect our organization (team, household, etc.)?
We know from experience that rewards and punishments as well as our own self-interests do affect our behavior but these experiments on cheating and dishonesty indicate that the effect is not as great as we tend to think. There are many more factors influencing our will to be honest than we usually recognize. If we can become aware of them, we may also find ways to become more honest.
If you try this activity, please where your conversation led!
If you like what you have read in this issue, I would like to bring the same innovation, creativity, and playfulness to your next meeting or learning event.
Whether you need a keynote speaker, or help with strategic planning, performance improvement, or training facilitators and trainers in your organization, I look forward to your call (802.257.7247) or .
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