Thursday, December 30, 2010

Unintended Consequences

"Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets." ~ attributed to Paul Batalden, M.D.

Sometimes good intentions lead to unintended consequences. I recently observed the phenomenon at my daughter's kindergarten holiday party. As a finale, a musical chair game was played in which those eliminated would receive their take home present. The game was designed to be an effective way to distribute the gifts and prevent those eliminated from feeling they had lost.

For the the first couple rounds, the game went as expected. Every child tried to find a seat when the music stopped. Then something interesting happened. After noticing the eliminated child received a prize, some participants purposely hesitated before sitting in a chair. Before lone, the game to evolved to four or five children refusing to sit, waiting for others to take the available seat. Obviously, those participants had decided it was better to be eliminated and get a prize than to continue playing to be the winner.

In hindsight, the result shouldn't have been surprising. After all, why play to win the game, when getting eliminated gets the child the same prize faster - less work with the same reward. To me, this lesson learned was the wrong one. Perhaps, the winner should have also received a special prize, creating an extra benefit from working hard and winning.

For more on Crossing Generations, check back every Thursday for a new segment.

This is not financial, education or parenting advice. Please consult a professional advisor.

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