Eliminating cheating

Yesterday I finished reading Predictably Irrational - the hidden forces that shape our decisions by Dan Ariely. His research has uncovered many patterns of flawed reasoning that do not correct themselves with experience. The one I'll explore for the next several posts is cheating. Ariely found that cheating occurs far more than we expect and without malicious intent.

Ken Allan pointed out in a comment yesterday on Innovating in Permaculture Mode, a Federal Department of Innovation would face many attempts to game its system:
The inevitable proliferation of pseudoinnovation among the true innovation will require a process for sifting out the junk. The more pseudo innovation there is, the more junk will have to be sifted – much like spam is in our email filters.
The programs, incentives and crowdsourcing of a Department of Innovation would have to be well designed to not get besieged with junk. It needs to "see the cheaters coming" before they gain access, privileges and credibility. The design must safeguard the authentic beneficiaries from getting obscured, discouraged or mislabeled.

There are situations where cheaters discover they are only cheating themselves if they cut corners, bend the rules or fake a genuine contribution. The system out smarts them and closed the loophole before they show up. Situations like this earn the respect of anyone trying to game the system. The potential cheaters feel understood and validated by a system that anticipated their unscrupulous and anti-social maneuvers. They admire whatever has outfoxed their attempts to slip through the cracks, misrepresent themselves and subvert the intended conduct.

This cheating ethos is reinforced by most PC, console and online games. The game cannot be won by an innocent and trusting player. Testing every obstacle for weakness, flaws, oversights and loopholes is essential. Rewards accrue to those gamers who avoid getting gamed by the design of the game. The design of the game gets perceived as high quality, really challenging and worthy of some good buzz whenever it expects gamers to test every facet for game cheats that work.

Creating a situation where it does not pay to cheat -- needs to go beyond the framework of formal arrangements. Besides the structure of requirements, there needs to be consideration of story, meaning and significance. In addition to the tangible components of the system, the intangible value and intrinsic elements must come into play. Alongside the explicit communication, there needs to be implicit messages, signals and cues of a deeper dimension. (to be continued)


  1. The conversation I often have in my classroom is what is "cheating"? For me, in our culture, cheating is an unfair advantage one individual has over another.

    However, does that mean that children born to privilege, who have educated parents that can help support them in their learning are "cheating"? Or is this good parenting? When I help my son by giving him feedback, is this cheating? When I help my colleague by giving him or her feedback, is this cheating?

    I think you need to define what you mean by "cheating".

  2. Kia ora Tom

    I have to concur with Virginia here. 'Cheating' has to be well defined.

    'Cutting corners' is a well known tactic in many track sports, for runners, cyclists, motocross and racing cars. But it is not considered cheating. In fact, in most circles in these sports it's considered good technique.

    'Faking a genuine contribution' is also up for discussion. Other than outright copying of a genuine contribution and putting it in as a contribution, it becomes a matter for debate. It's all to do with perception, I guess.

    But isn't that what all controversy is about? Perception? Do I cheat by following all the legal rules to the letter, including using all the loopholes that exists? Or do I get applauded for finding the loopholes, that they can now be plugged?

    And what if the loopholes, once found, are not plugged? Do I cheat by using them again while continuing to follow all the legal rules?

    Cheating in play, in life, in business and in law has to be defined. Not only that, it should be recognised by all parties. Of course, this is where a lot of cheating goes undetected, or unrecognised - 'condoned' is the term some might use, for all parties may not recognise cheating.

    Let me use an analogy. My wife and I often play CIV, a sophisticated computer strategy game. We have often debated about the validity of saving our games at strategic points so that we can revisit the game at that point and replay it from there. We both have done this. We both learnt a lot from doing this. But is it cheating?

    My answer to this question is simply: it depends on the rules that you are playing by.

    The crims are well known for playing by their rules. So much so that they have their own set of rules.

    Woe-betide a crim that breaks the rules against another crim. Some crims are so committed to their own set of rules that they think it's fair if they get caught and prosecuted by the law. Strange, isn't it? that crims should think this way. But some of them do. They have their own set of morals - their own set of rules.

    I could go on for another page:-)

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

  3. Virgina: Thanks for asking me to define 'cheating". The next post responds to your request. I have difficulty drawing the line between taking a fair or unfair advantage of someone else. Rather I prefer to consider everything as "fair game with consequences". Then it's not a question of fairness, but of repercussions over the short and long term on oneself and others.

    Ken: Thanks for framing this issue as a question of perception, relative merit and context. I agree that any incident of "cheating" can be taken in many ways to serve several different purposes. Thanks for stimulating my thoughts on all this!