Daniel Lemire's blog

, 2 min read

Who plays nice? Who plays rough?

I have a confession to make. I am one of these people who can’t watch a TV show like Game of thrones because there is too much evil. In fact, I generally cringe when reading novels or watching movies where there is too much lying or backstabbing. I simply cannot stand it.

In academia, there are versions of Game of thrones unfolding at times. I similarly despise them. I would have been very unhappy as an employee of the NSA.

I don’t know how common this is… but I have hard time watching a movie like Harry Potter. It doesn’t mean that I am all soft and cuddly. In fact, maybe the opposite is true: I have very little tolerance for people who backstab or denigrate others. I will go out of my way to avoid them. So how would I fare in a “ruthless business”?

Maybe better than I thought:

(…) we compare students with two adult populations deliberately selected from two cutthroat internet industries — domain trading and adult entertainment (pornography). Across a range of indicators, business people in these industries are more pro-social than students: they are more altruistic, trusting, trustworthy, and lying averse. (Hoffman and Morgan, 2013)

It is easy to assume that “nice folks” will thrive in a highly regulated setting (e.g., in a government job, in academia) whereas “ruthless folks” will do better in a cutthroat industry. But the reverse might be true.

In a less regulated setting, your career depends on the collaboration of strangers. If you have a high tolerance for cheating and lying, your reputation might suffer, or you might not be so easily turned off by other cheaters. Both of these effects will harm you.

In a more formal social setting, ruthless individuals may fare better: being “morally flexible” is more likely to get you ahead.