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Listen To The Children

Anyone who knows me or is familiar with this column probably would guess that I follow sports scores a lot more closely than I do art auctions. Nonetheless, one of my favorite recent news stories involved Christie's, Sotheby's, and more than $20 million worth of art. Takashi Hashiyama, president of a Japanese electronics firm, couldn't decide which auction house to use to unload the company's art collection. Did he ask them to enter a bidding war? Did he split the collection between the two auction houses? Did he ask around to find out which one had the fastest-talking auctioneer? No. He decided to use a decision-making process that kids have been using for generations: rock, paper, scissors.

In case you've been living under a rock — or a paper or scissors — in this game, rock breaks scissors, scissors cuts paper, and paper smothers rock. What I love about Hashiyama's decision to use a children's method to decide the fate of all this art and money is that it was so pure, so fair, and so much more fun than having some MBAs making a bunch of charts based on some fancy theories.

Sotheby's decided to leave its decision to chance, and had no particular strategy. Christie's, on the other hand, turned to some experts: the children of their international director of the impressionist and modern art department. The 11-year-old twin daughters immediately told their dad to go with scissors. Their reasoning was that, "Rock is way too obvious, and scissors beats paper." So, Christie's chose scissors, Sotheby's chose paper, scissors "cut" paper and Christie's got the deal.

Using this method for the art auction deal, there were no kickbacks, no back room deals, no backstabbing. It was just done in a fair (and fun) way. Maybe playground ethics should be a model for other forms of adult decision-making.

Take international relations. Kids today are taught, "Use your words, don't use force." That's a nice one for a lot of world leaders to try — at least as a first resort.

And think of all the lives that would have been spared if, instead of waging war every few years, the Germans and French would have just tossed a coin to see who got Alsace-Lorraine. And what would be wrong with the policy of "I'll show you my nuclear weapons if you show me yours?" And heads of state could play pin the tail on the donkey, with the winners getting to say that their form of government or their religion is the best.

In business, playground rules would be interesting, too. How many of you would be willing to shoot free throws against your boss to determine if you're going to get a raise? And how about thumb wrestling your colleague to see who gets the corner office? Or racing your competitor around the block to see who gets the prized Noodleman account?

In Kid Rules, fairness is the most important thing and everyone has to have an equal chance to win. Lying and cheating are bad, telling the truth is good. Sharing is good, bullying is bad. Making up lies about others is against the rules. Apologizing for doing something wrong is required. It's all so simple that one wonders why so many adults seem to forget these rules as they move from the classroom to the boardroom or the war room.

But before you ask your Senators to try to pass Kid Rules as the law of the land, remember that it's a package deal. You can't just adopt some of the ways kids do things. So, operating under playground ethics, this is what would probably happen if someone were to say, "That wasn't fair and it wasn't right when you said Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction. And you never even admitted you were wrong or apologized." Then the culprit would just smile — or smirk — and say, "Hey, I can't be punished for it. I had my fingers crossed."

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver
By Lloyd Garver