Steve Simpson’s recently released book – UGRs: Cracking the Corporate Culture Code – talks about the powerful impact that Unwritten Ground Rules have on the levels of service provided by any organisation. Unwritten Ground Rules apply in contexts other than work however – as Steve recently discovered in an article that discussed Unwritten Rules in games including tic-tac-toe …..
In an article titled ‘Unwritten Rules’ (http://www.gamepuzzles.com/tlog/tlog2.htm) author Stephen Sniderman discusses some fascinating aspects of games and sports that fall outside of the agreed rules for these games. He gives an example of the very simple game of tic-tac-toe:
‘Suppose I challenge you to a game of tic-tac-toe. Could anything be more straightforward?
But just to be sure, we review the rules. We’ll play on a 3×3 grid, we’ll alternate turns, we’ll play only in empty squares, I’ll play X’s, you play O’s, I’ll play first, and the first player to get three of his/her symbol in a row, column, or diagonal wins the game. Aren’t these all the rules of tic-tac-toe?
Well, for one thing, nothing has been said about time. Is there a time limit between moves?
Normally, we both “understand” that there is, and we both “know” that our moves should be made within a “reasonable” time, say 20 seconds. If one of us takes longer, the other starts to fidget or act bored, may even make not-so-subtle comments, and eventually threatens to quit. Without having stated it, we have accepted a tacit time limit. And because we haven’t stated it, it is fairly flexible and very functional.
Without having stated it, we have accepted a tacit time limit.
Suppose it is my turn and, no matter what I do, you will win on your next move. Couldn’t I prevent that from happening, within the rules stated, by simply refusing to play? Nothing in the rules forces me to move within a particular amount of time, so I simply do not make my next move. Haven’t I followed the rules and avoided losing?
And yet, if you’ve ever played a game, you know that this strategy is almost never employed and would be completely unacceptable. Anybody who seriously resorted to such a tactic would be considered childish or unsportsmanlike or socially undesirable and would probably not be asked to play in the future. This behaviour seems to violate some fundamental but rarely stated principle of the game without any of us ever having to discuss it.’
This intriguing discussion extends to others games and sports, and is worth a read! It has prompted me to be more aware of media coverage of sports and how often the ‘unwritten rules’ are highlighted. As an example, it used to be an ‘unwritten rule’ that a batsman would ‘walk’ in cricket when they knew they were out (rather than wait for the umpire’s adjudication). Somehow, over time this unwritten rule has disappeared and it no longer influences a batmen’s behaviour. Many other unwritten rules persist however!