What I’ve Learned From Reality TV

I’m not even a small fan of reality TV. With one exception: I watch Hell’s Kitchen almost since the beginning. I wish I could say I do it to improve myself, learn something, but it’s just a guilty pleasure.

By now, I know all the tricks in the book. I’m almost never surprised about who’s going home. I can tell who goes to the finals and why. I also know that what I see is not exactly what really happens (reality show, right?). It’s not boring, but I I know what kind of mind games the production is playing.

But in the last season, as I was watching, a light bulb lit above my head. I’ve noticed something that was there in front of me all the time.

Game Theory Coming To Real Life

I know, I know. This is a reality GAME show. What did I expect? Yet, it struck a chord, when I said to my co-watcher wife: This is exactly the prisoner’s dilemma!

The players try to work as a team, but hold back, or strike back, just so nobody else gets ahead.  Many times the team fails, just because of a “me first” behavior.

For me this was another proof that system thinking is taking over my life. So watching Hell’s Kitchen is not just fun, I can now call it science!

From Reality Shows To Reality

In our life, we have goals that carry rewards (money, feeling good, titles) and punishments (staying after work to complete stuff, feeling bad, getting fired). Our default way of thinking is that if we do X, we’ll get Y. It’s linear thinking, which is easy on our brains, but unfortunately, has nothing to do with reality.

We are not the lone actors in the system. There are other actors with their own views, motivations and values. For teams to succeed, we need to change our point of view, and understand that others view reality differently.

Especially if you’re  a leader. Command and control doesn’t work in complex systems. What you can do is rearrange the environment (more rewards, less punishments) so the actors can work more effectively.

The producers of Hell’s Kitchen understand that. What they do maybe immoral, because the product is the result of the production manipulating the players. Yet managers need to play the game as well.

Because no matter how we look at it, eventually we’ll examine the result for success or failure. We want to have a fun show. Or a quality product on time.

Rather than a late boring product show.

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