The No Game and the Never Good Enough Game

Being an introvert and loner by nature, I’m endlessly fascinated how organizations work. Whether small (like a family) or large (like the bureacracy in a large institution) to gigantic (the bureaucracies powered by the EU) there are always (at least) two levels. There’s a formal level with mission statements and the like and an informal, hidden level that seems to come into being and function and work toward goals that are never stated without anyone being completely aware of it.

That’s why one of my favorite books is Power! by Michael Korda. Supposedly, he’s disavowed the book or described it as parody, but I’ve seen very many of the scenarios he describes play out in the US and in Poland. It’s an indispensable work for anyone interested in understanding the way institutions work in the real world.

One of the things going on here is a variation of a phenomenon described in the book. It’s called the No Game. It’s very simple. You say “no” or “NO!” to everything until you’re overrruled and/or run out of things to say no to. Most people find it difficult to do this but since almost every large organization needs somebody who will reliably say “No” to all proposals irregardless of reason, profitability, feasibility or common sense a person who can follow the game plan can do very well for themselves.

The institution in question here clearly doesn’t want certain types of research to take place and so they create more and more bureaucratic hoops to jump through. This is a variation of the No Game that I call the “Never Good Enough Game”. The idea is to create a system to discourage certain behavior by making it more difficult than it’s worth by always creating new hurdles. It’s a way of saying “No!” that dispenses with the need for a No Player. I’m sure that most of the people involved in stopping research before it starts don’t realize that’s what they’re doing. If asked I’m sure they can come up with a lot of boilerplate about protecting vulnerable people and ensuring the quality and ethics of research but in reality…. they’re saying “No” until there’s nothing left to say no to.

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