The "Brownie Points" Anti-Pattern

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This page is a part of Design Patterns.

Its content is derived from the presentation "Building a Hacker Space" by Jens Ohlig and Lars Weiler.

Sustainability Patterns Independence Patterns Regularity Patterns Conflict Resolution Patterns Creative Chaos Patterns


When looking at the behaviour and the conduct of a member in a group setting, often the "brownie points" anti-pattern emerges. This anti-pattern emerges when a specifc member contributes both positively and negatively to the group. For examples of positive contributions, they might maintain one of our areas or machines, or regularly run tours etc. However, in addition to this positive behaviour, they also contribute negative behaviour to the space. Examples include causing excessive conflict with members, leaving mess around, breaking rules, or generally bringing down the social dynamics of the group (sometimes this is hard to identify/quantify).

When negative behaviour from this person happens, people are often quick to point out all of the good things they've done; as if it should make up for the negative behaviour. When looking at behaviour in a group setting like this, it is not (well, should not be) a zero sum game. You shouldn't earn "brownie points" for positive behaviour that you can cash in for negative behaviour.


What does this mean? Obviously significant positive contribution to the group shouldn't be overlooked for minor and once off negative behaviour - mistakes happen. However, consistent or significant negative behaviour needs to be looked at separately, and in absolute value compared to the positive behaviour. In other words - if you took away all the positive behaviour, how would you feel about the negative behaviour by itself? This is important because regardless of the positive behaviour, the results of the negative behaviour often stay behind, such as poor social dynamics, inconsistent enforcement of rules, damaged equipment, etc.