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Spirit of the Game?
August 20, 2010 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Ultimate Frisbee as a Business model? [PDF] - An interesting take on the latest corporate scandal - the Christian Science Monitor points out that Spirit Of The Game could/should apply to big business. It's long been part of the Tech Startup world (google Cache Only - sorry). [previous Ultimate Thread]
posted by Metheglen (27 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
For what it's worth, this is the way it works in curling too - there are no referees even in Olympic gold medal games or in the various commercially sponsored tournaments where there's real money on the line.

Also, man is it hard to huck one of those stones past the midfield.
posted by GuyZero at 1:51 PM on August 20, 2010


That's the textbook example of pie-in-the-sky thinking. It sure would be nice if corporations were nicer, like those Ultimate players! But no discussion of why that works in Ultimate, how it might be implemented in other situations, what the likely difficulties are, etc.
posted by echo target at 1:55 PM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


> Require that bankers and other titans of industry join a weekend ultimate frisbee game in their local park.

I would sign up for cable just to watch this.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:56 PM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


They'll spend a few hours in a world where there are no designated enforcers but everyone follows the rules – not just in letter, but in spirit.

if only because some of those hippies are businesspeople that have some killer acid.
posted by the aloha at 2:00 PM on August 20, 2010


Attend a weekend retreat? No. Any exec not operating 100% of the time to maximize shareholder value can be held liable for corporate malfeasance. "Spirit of the law" means precisely dick; trust is meaningless. Corporations (as much as I hate them) are just machines and operate according to their written programs and nothing else.

Whatever social conscience you want a corporation to have must be written down. And because adding "conscience" rules to the program makes a corporation a less efficient competitor, there is almost no chance a corporation will write those rules for itself. (There are notable exceptions.)

Ergo: regulation.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:01 PM on August 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think that at least on a smaller level it is possible for a company to act in a way because it is right and fair, not just because they fear bad press, government regulation, or loss of business.
posted by jaybeans at 2:02 PM on August 20, 2010


Attend a weekend retreat? No. Any exec not operating 100% of the time to maximize shareholder value can be held liable for corporate malfeasance.

Whaaaat?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:21 PM on August 20, 2010


CxOs also play a good deal of golf, which has self-reported scoring (if you don't have a lousy snitch of a caddy, that is). Doesn't seem to have introduced altruism into the corporate model.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:25 PM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


My plan? Orange slices for everyone!
posted by defenestration at 2:39 PM on August 20, 2010


Now I find Ultimate and it's cult members enthusiasts even more annoying.
posted by everichon at 2:41 PM on August 20, 2010


ULTIMATE FRISBEE MADE ME MISUSE AN APOSTROPHE IN PUBLIC

The hour of drinking, it approaches.
posted by everichon at 2:42 PM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Private-school education person acquires fancy taste for hipstery, nichey recreation, then attempts to extrapolate their mind-blown insights to the rest of the world.

DUUUUUUUDE.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:43 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of the "rules" vs. "principles" debate in accounting. FWIW, I 'm a big advocate of moving towards a more principle based form of corporate governance, but it is a change that has to occur on a cultural & societal level first, and we would not likely see a broad change in business leadership for at least another generation.

The problem with Bader's thesis is what, in the meantime, exactly do you do with cheaters and others who violate the "spirit of the game?" Just making CEO's go out and play Ultimate Frisbee isn't going to change their current business practices overnight. Making Ultimate Frisbee a gym requirement for MBA programs may be useful for the future, but what do we do for now? There's no penalty for cheating.
posted by KingEdRa at 2:57 PM on August 20, 2010


Professional Golf is probably an even better example, since players regularly call themselves out at great expense (an extra stroke can mean thousands of dollars.) However, they're watched at each hole (transparency) and may incur even greater penalties if caught cheating (oversight.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:17 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


See, now that sounds lovely but as anyone who has played a lot of Ultimate will tell you, the whole self-officiated thing can sometimes get a little problematic. The vast majority of teams will cheerfully call themselves on fouls and out of bounds and agree with your calling of same, but every so often you run into that asshole team that MUST WIN and will therefore vociferously contradict every call you make. Things always get sorted out eventually (you can either agree with a call or contest it, and all contesting does is take it back to the thrower) but there can be some pretty acrimonious things said, and it's just no fun to play against a team like that, so really, what's the point? I kind of feel like the CEO's would be that team.
posted by Go Banana at 3:42 PM on August 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yeah, and we can have legislators and a judiciary who uphold the "spirit of the law", too.

For too long,we've held up, as good examples, businessmen who have played fast and loose with the rules to make their companies successful. They weren't ignoring the "spirit of the game" - they were showing "entrepreneurial spirit" and demonstrating "business acumen". If a new rule was made, the bean counters and lawyers figured intricate (but legal) ways around them. And we applauded their skills as they systematically fucked everybody over.

The monster is alive and well, a creature of our own making. Good luck killing it.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:17 PM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's the textbook example of pie-in-the-sky thinking.

It is also the only way civilization survives.
posted by JHarris at 4:24 PM on August 20, 2010


"...I 'm a big advocate of moving towards a more principle based form of corporate governance, but it is a change that has to occur on a cultural & societal level first"

Really? Society is corrupt and therefore companies just behave like everybody else? Because we've set a bad example for them?

I'm not sure I buy that. I have an Indian friend who says that if you think about it, people are fundamentally evil and you can't trust them - once you accept that, you're on the road to a happier existence. Is that a more realistic view than mine, which is roughly that people do the best they can, some are eviller than others, and corporations are like golems: they only do what they are told. By money-grubbing CEO's who are Satan's henchmen.

I have met people who are pretty darn decent, like my friend above. On the other hand, I've never played Ultimate Friszbzee, so what do I know?
posted by sneebler at 4:50 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


According to a recent documentary, the first outside accountant who questioned the numbers on Enron was fired. The others after that were pressured to be fired. Then one day a guy asked an innocent question during a conference call, "Why is Enron the only financial services without a balance sheet." After a pause, the CFO answering the question uttered "Asshole" in response to the question (this is audible on tape). That's how the largest accounting fraud in US history unraveled, because obviously enough people in on the call were poker players, not frisbee tossers. Previous to that they were teaching the Enron way of implied trust and explicit backstabbing in business school textbooks.
posted by Brian B. at 5:34 PM on August 20, 2010


Ultimate is a better plastic-flying-disc-based-model for corporations than disc golf. If corporations were modeled on disc golf, everyone would show up late, really high, forget to keep score, and quit halfway through to go get beer.

On second thought...
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:16 PM on August 20, 2010


The article's thesis doesn't stand up to research. Recreational ultimate leagues are usually pretty civil, but if you ever watch a nationals game (I know, they exist) you'll quickly learn how poorly the "spirit of the game" regulates competitive play. Players call infractions on the other team EVERY 30 SECONDS! Since there is almost no penalty do stopping play (the worst that can happen is that the call is "contested", whereupon everyone just continues where they left off), teams use calls to break up the other side's momentum. It's super boring to watch. I've been playing for ten years, and love the sport, but I had to turn the television off.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:19 PM on August 20, 2010


Yes, it turns out when the stakes are high, both businesspeople and ultimate players have a similar adherence to "the spirit of the game". I would like to believe otherwise, but I've seen ultimate get ugly firsthand, and business get ugly in the news.

Happily, there are plenty of people who care about the spirit of the game. Well--there was last time I played, before I had all these kids, anyway. Nowadays maybe it's all gone.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 1:20 AM on August 21, 2010


Whatever social conscience you want a corporation to have must be written down. And because adding "conscience" rules to the program makes a corporation a less efficient competitor, there is almost no chance a corporation will write those rules for itself. (There are notable exceptions.)

In my country it's not uncommon that, for certain problems, the government will essentially tell industry "self-regulate effectively or be regulated legislatively" and usually industry decides that they much prefer the former.

Admittedly we mostly use this for smaller problems, like telemarketing do-not-call lists and 'up to 20Mbps broadband' advertising codes of conduct and things like that, but it seems to work at least some of the time.
posted by Mike1024 at 2:45 AM on August 21, 2010


In short: if we had a society where public players operated on the basis of virtue rather than on the basis of rules, we would be better off.

Well obviously.

But we have rules and regulation because we do not believe that people can be trusted to act virtuously, either individually or in concert.

The question here is whether or not enough people could be trusted to act virtuously to make up for the times when people do not act virtuously to leave us in a net gain for society.

I'm thinking the answer is "Probably not," but not for the reasons most people here might think. The thing is, acting virtuously in little ways is relatively easy, and that's actually where a lot of the good can be done. It's really, really difficult to regulate how to, say, treat your employees well. Sure, we can say that you have to offer things like equal work for equal pay, FMLA, stuff like that, but you just can't write rules that say that you have to be willing and eager to work with your employees to make their lives easier. An employer has to choose that, and that alone would actually do a substantial amount of good.

But while that would be good, failing to act virtuously in areas like that doesn't necessarily amount to a massive societal crisis. The times when it's really, really important for people to act virtuously are the times when it is most in people's interest not to do so. So, e.g., when you've got to make a choice about screwing over investors by betting against your own product or making a metric assload of money, Goldman Sachs did the former. BP and its allied companies chose not to spend a shit-ton of money on safety equipment. The miners in West Virginia seem to have chosen to turn of an annoying methane indicator.

So I think the author is correct: the world would indeed be a better place if corporations acted virtuously, even in little ways, as those are the hardest things to regulate. But that would not eliminate the need for regulation, as the risks are such that we cannot simply assume that corporations are going to act this way when it is in there interest not to do so.
posted by valkyryn at 5:28 AM on August 21, 2010


Somewhat fittingly, as the ultimate world grows there is an increasingly larger faction of the sport who wants more officiating. Quite recently (last weekend), Emerald City Classic, which is one of the largest and best tournaments of the year and boasts most of the west half of the countries good teams, along with a few from the east and midwest played with experimental rules where travel calls and in/out calls were done by an officiating staff, as well was changing the way throwing fouls can work.

While these are not huge changes, they were almost universally well liked from what I've heard, and are likely the direction the sport will head in the next year or two.
posted by yeahwhatever at 4:36 PM on August 21, 2010


Recreational ultimate leagues are usually pretty civil, but if you ever watch a nationals game (I know, they exist) you'll quickly learn how poorly the "spirit of the game" regulates competitive play. Players call infractions on the other team EVERY 30 SECONDS!

As an observer who has worked every national championship tournament for the last 4 years, I think this is a gross exaggeration. There are definitely some games where there are an unfortunately high number of calls, but even at the highest level most games are quite watchable. The open (i.e., men's) finals of the college championships tends to be the exception there, but it really depends on the particular teams involved.

Somewhat fittingly, as the ultimate world grows there is an increasingly larger faction of the sport who wants more officiating

I was one of the observers working at Emerald City Classic last weekend. While I am personally in favor of our expanded duties that weekend (active travel and up/down calls) I think they remain inside our general mandate, which is to make calls that are objective in nature, and that observers tend to have a better perspective on than players.

An important difference between observers and referees is that observers aren't going to make calls like fouls, as that is very subjective and different games are accepting of different levels of physicality. From an observing perspective we want to leave the game in the players' hands as much as possible. Even with observers, I would describe the game as self-officiated; an observer is a sort of combination linesmen-timekeeper-arbitrator.
posted by Cogito at 11:20 AM on August 23, 2010


Also, Way to post this on a weekend when I was away at a tourney.
posted by Cogito at 12:06 PM on August 23, 2010


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