We have a summer tradition in my house. Each year, my wife, daughter and I huddle around the TV three times a week to watch the CBS reality show, Big Brother. If you’ve never watched the show, it has a simple premise: 12-16 people are locked into a small house for the summer — competing for $500,000. All they have to do is be the last one standing. Two things are pushing them out of the house — their ability or inability to get along with others (called the social game) and their ability to win physical challenges. In some ways, the show mimics the workplace, where people often win or lose based on their skill set and their ability to get along with co-workers.
Unlike workplaces though, people are asked to leave by their peers. This is done once a week when house guests cast votes to evict a teammate. (The idea has never been implemented in the workplace due to a fear of increased turnover.)
But, what unfolds inside the house is too much free time — which often translates to boredom — and a lot of ‘mind games,’ as every move and word of each player is recorded. Soon, they forget the cameras are there and, even with a loss of privacy, they get a false sense of security.
It is this loss of privacy that shines a light on who we are.
In season after season, despite the varying cast of players, a very predictable pattern emerges. Players make poor choices. Players say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. They trust someone who is lying. As viewers we can see their mistakes. In a small, godlike way, we see the whole picture of their life, but the players, they can only see and know what is immediately in front of them. They only know their own actions and conversations. They cannot see how it is all about to play out.
It’s why they mess up — they make decisions based on their extremely limited viewpoint.
Experience Alters The Course
This season four players are returning and they have adjusted their gameplay. One player, much more abrasive in her past performance, is only showcasing her abrasive side in the diary room — a private conversation with show producers that her peers cannot see or hear until after the season is over. She learned from life. She learned that, although she is funny and witty, not everyone gets her humor or even likes her — so she hams it up for the camera and then uses a more low-key approach when interacting with other players.
Some say this is manipulative — after all she is not being ‘real.’ I disagree. No one can be all things for all people. Our predictability is a liability. When people can push our buttons, they control our behavior. In the end, they know precisely how we will respond.
The wise players, both in the game and in life, step back, pause and think through their response before reacting. Observing life, and adjusting to its flow, is not a weakness. It can lead to peace and power.
And for one person it will mean $500,000 this fall.