A Nation of Cheaters?

There is a cultural trend that bodes ill for CSOs—an epidemic of willful disregard for rules and regulations.

A few years back, Yahoo Games instituted an online chess ladder. A ladder system essentially ranks all the players from top to bottom, and you move up by beating people ranked higher on the ladder. Losing (or not playing) slowly lowers your ranking.

I'm a decent player—I won the state championship of Kentucky in my salad days—but couldn't begin to approach the top of Yahoo's ladder.

But guess what? The people at the top weren't playing chess at all! They were cheaters, a closed circle of players passing the crown around by systematically losing one-move games to each other. Player No. 2 challenges Player No. 1, makes one move to start the game, and then Player No. 1 resigns the game and they switch rankings on the ladder. Isn't there something weird about spending hours maintaining your rank as top chess player without actually playing the game?

Alas, this is not an isolated occurrence. In 2004, David Callahan wrote a book, The Cheating Culture, about the pervasiveness of rule-bending in America today. Most of the examples Callahan cites have to do with cheating to achieve economic gain, career advancement and so forth. Kids fudging tests and papers in college to ensure that they can get a good job. That kind of thing. (Just so you won't be surprised if you get the book, Callahan serves up his points with a clear political slant. He's been described as "a liberal who argues that America has lost its moral compass.") But Yahoo Chess Ladder suggests that some people will cheat with even less incentive than that. A little temporary status, a little convenience—people will cheat for next to nothing.

What are the ramifications of the cheating culture for CSOs? You have to imagine that preventing policy violations, theft and other crime is harder when gaming the system has become the national pastime.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has the incredibly difficult job of trying to enforce copyright in an era where, among their target consumers, copyright is a dead concept. It's a legal construct, but one that presents zero moral imperative to the generation most likely to consume music. The RIAA just announced lawsuits against another 8,000 file sharers in 17 countries. But of course, the more aggressively the record companies have pursued enforcement and restitution, the more they have alienated themselves from the potential consumers they covet.

There's a loss prevention job I don't want.

Though it's an extreme example, all CSOs and CISOs face a similar challenge to some degree. Whether you're in retail or banking or government or anything else, your job is harder in a world where neither property lines nor company policies nor network perimeters nor intellectual property rights are respected.

Will the situation ever improve? Callahan thinks so; he says this kind of cultural tide is cyclical. Callahan's prescription for making a difference, long term, is simply to treat employees well. "Fairness, inclusive management, profit sharing, transparency, all that stuff makes a big difference toward creating an environment where people are less likely to try to rip off their employer," he says.

Regardless of whether that will work, many of those decisions lie outside the CSO's sphere of control.

And in the meantime, if Callahan is right (and if my Yahoo Games experience is any indication), you've got a lot of cheaters to deal with.

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