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Prisoner’s Dilemma and the Art of the BF

handsbars.jpgEditor’s Note: Robert Stewart is a former Big 4 auditor and ex-Marine who has since served in several executive management roles in both Internal Audit and Corporate Finance. He is also the founder and chief contributor to online accounting and audit community, The Accounting Nation. Outside of work, he is a husband, father, brother, writer, and woefully inadequate aspiring triathlete. To learn more about The Accounting Nation, go to
Everything in business these days is focused on teams and teamwork. And yet…in the worlds of accounting and finance…and especially in public accounting…the concept of teamwork often feels like such a joke.
More, after the Jump

There always seems to be that one douche bag that stays too late, gets there too early, inflates chargeability, eats hours, works weekends, foregoes vacation, or does some other trick in an attempt to make everyone else look bad and try to the be the superstar of the game. “Semper Fi…fuck the other guy” as the motto goes. And as a result of his selfish actions, causes everyone else to follow suit in order to compete in the marketplace. It raises the bar higher and higher, costing each person their sanity and ruining their long-term job satisfaction and work/life balance.
I like to call that person the buddy fucker, or BF for short. Every group or team has one. And as Dane Cook would say, “if you can’t think of who that person is on your team…then you ARE that person….I know…its funny because it’s true.” It’s so funny…because it’s so true.
If you could somehow get all parties to agree to a common set of working “rules” or standards, then everyone would be happier. But this, my friends, will never happen…and it’s because of a little thing called the Prisoner’s Dilemma. The Prisoner’s Dilemma describes a common strategic situation in game theory whereby two or more opponents in a given “game” must make a strategic decision, absent knowledge about what the other party will do, in order to maximize their individual payoff. Both parties inevitably end up choosing an option which results in a less-than-optimal outcome as a result of his or her lack of certainty about what the other party will do.
In other words, rational players (i.e. your fellow employees and staffers…it’s a stretch of a moniker…I realize) will always BF in order to protect their downside. If you make an agreement with your fellow staffers that nobody will work more than 50 hours per week and that one BF breaks ranks and works 60…everybody else looks like a slacker. So everybody protects their downside by working 60 hours…and everybody is worse off as a result of it. This applies to so many things in life and business…just think about the applications…mind boggling. But guess what…It’s just part of the Game…so get used to it…or get out of it. There’s no dignity in complaining. Accept and move on…