It Takes a Criminal Mind to Beat Criminals

For the second time, it has happened. It still hurts. Not only hurts, it sucks. Very clearly my group has been cheated by a group of people who has manipulated an unfair system and bring benefits to themselves. I have come to see that a system needs to be designed with a criminal mind, not with a good guy’s.

The first time, it was at a training event in Jakarta. On the last day of the training there were a series of group-based competitions. There were 5 groups, each sending their best work to be presented in front of the whole class. Each of the groups would score every presenter. There was a rather clear perception that the work my group sent to the class was the best. It was the talk of the class during the breaks we had from the morning until the afternoon. We were excited about the attention it had garnered.

Then, the time of the final competition came. One by one, each group sent their representative and their work. It was lively. There were laughter and applauses. People were clearly excited. Little did we know groups 4 and 5 had colluded to give the other groups’ representatives a score not more than 60% – no matter how good the works were. At the same time, they would give their representatives perfect scores to bring them to the top of the chart. That meant, groups 1, 2, and 3 didn’t stand a chance of winning the competition while between their corrupt groups, the winner would be decided by who got a higher score from groups 1, 2, and 3.

When the winner was finally announced there were gasps around the room – except from the one end where groups 4 and 5 sat. There was laughter from their end. We figured out what had happened. Unfortunately, the system was flawed.

Today, it has happened again. We were divided into groups, each creating a business plan. The groups were to present their business plans with four classmates presiding as angel investors. There was one group that presented a particularly terrible work – yet they ended up getting a higher score than my group. This group caused such confusions to the angel investors that the latter even had to ask, “What’s your product? Who are your customer?” and well into the presentation, they refused to answer these questions, blurting instead, “You’re just ruining our presentation sequence!” That group ended up getting a better score. It was ultimately upsetting.

Tracing what had happened, I found out that the bottom line was: collusion. Practically what had happened at the training also happened here.

How could these things happen? I think the root cause is defective system. Systems designed with presumptions that the people using it would be honest and do their tasks straight forward. But it seems that’s not the prevailing condition. We need to assume that these people are evil and where there are loopholes these would be used.

As a systems designer, I find it challenging and enjoyable to find foolproof systems. At the same time though, it’s painful to be at the receiving end of such a treatment raising from defective system exploited by corrupt minds.


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