Friday, April 20, 2012

Cheese and Choke Chains

A little more of this, a little less of that.

That's what training is all about no matter what type of beast is being trained.

Most people know how to reward positive behavior, and to be honest it's not that tough to train a small child or a new puppy.

But what about bad behavior that is strongly self-reinforcing, and may have gone on for years without any opposition at all?

"Train a different behavior" we are told, but of course those are just words. The answer to a barking dog is not to "train it to bark on command and then never give the command," no matter how often that bit of nonsense is repeated. For dogs, barking is a self-rewarding behavior, same as deer-chasing and digging in trash cans for stray scraps of food.

But, of course, not all training is about dogs and small children is it?

We also train adult people, organizations, corporations, and even clients.

And is all that training done using a "click and treat" paradigm?

Of course not.

Nor could it ever be.

For example, what are we supposed to be doing with criminals who rob our houses and shoplift in our stores?

Are we to reward them every time they decide not to rob us?

Are we we supposed to buy a meal and a movie ticket for a rapist every time they allow a pretty girl to walk by unmolested?

I think not!

And what about corporations that engage in illegal theft, profiteering, and bill-padding, or which manufacture products that maim, poison or kill?

Are we supposed to give tax breaks to all the companies that don't kill us and don't poison us and don't rip us off?

Are we supposed to "click and treat" companies full of liars, cheat and thieves as soon as they stop lying, stealing and cheating?

How do you "train" away corporate bad behavior with a purely-positive rewards-based system?

Believe it or not, that question reared it head a few weeks back when I was asked to speak at a conference entitled "Control the Corporation" put on by Ralph Nader's Center for Study of Responsive Law.

Control the Corporation? We might need a pretty big leash for that!

So what did I suggest? Did I suggest "shooting the dog" and getting rid of big corporations, or jailing top executives?


That's never going to happen. The biggest corporate scoundrels are companies that are "too big to jail," and their top managers are "too privileged" to jail, no matter what anyone might wish.

That said, I did not suggest "click and treat" as an appropriate solution to ripping off and poisoning America's oldest, sickest and poorest!

Instead, I suggested incentivizing the right good actors, and penalizing the right bad actors, and in both cases making the gain and the pain very personal.

In short, there is a place for cheese and choke chains.

It's not a matter of one or the other
-- it's a question of using the right tool on the right problem at the right time.   Training is training.

And YES, you can dog train the corporation!


1 comment:

mscriver said...

This is exactly what I see from where I'm sitting in a small village where the dynamics are much the same. Not that it's new.

Here's an old joke that sort of peripherally relevant. A woman was raising two children, a boy and a girl. She didn't have much difficulty with the girl. If she did the wrong thing, her mother punished her -- something mild like grounding for a night and the girl didn't do that thing anymore.

But the boy was a problem. She even resorting to a whipping a couple of times, but nothing worked. So she turned to research and asked him directly, "Why do you do these things that you shouldn't, even when I whip you for it?"

He looked at her all clear-eyed and said, "But, Mom, it's worth it!!

Prairie Mary