The problem with leaderboards


We live in a culture that fosters toxic competition in everything we do, and it is in large part why we as a people are on the verge of social collapse — and I include the current political climate in that, when you trace the roots to both the supremacy of profit, the whole “my god is better than your god” model, and the deep-seated xenophobic nationalism that has overtaken us.

I just ranted at my colleagues about why I think a “kudos” leaderboard is a mistake. These are not just colleagues, they are friends, and I love them; I’m always thoroughly delighted when they do well. But when one lives in a culture where adversarial relationships are shoved at us in a million different insidious ways, it’s difficult to step back and identify the problem spots. A leaderboard that reports kudos in a ranked order is a problem spot.

I know I often come across as hopelessly cynical; in fact I’m not cynical so much a furious with a system that fosters competition instead of cooperation. It’s in the very air we breathe, and little tricks like this compound the problem. I’m actually in many ways a starry-eyed optimist, but my optimism centers around us figuring out shit together, as a team, as a culture, as a planet.

Recommended reading, and it applies well beyond the borders of learning:  Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes

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