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Posts Tagged ‘Ethical Decision Making and Behavior’

Corporate Ethos from the Top-Down

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick issued an apology and stepped down from his position as Chief Executive Officer after a video surfaced of him getting in an argument with his personal Uber driver and then shortly telling the man that some people don’t like to take individual responsibility.

This incident represented yet another stain on the company in a trail of sexual harrassment, discrimination, and pushing the envelope in legal and ethical boundaries. It also raises the question of how much the individual morality or personal ethics of a leader affects the corporate ethos or environment of the business culture. The ethos, or corporate climate, also winded up having an impact on the entire tech start-up industry itself, as evidenced by the avalanche of sexual harrassment revelations this week. Uber has also been found in violation of intellectual property laws and local/international driving regulations. My college mentor always mentioned that it’s naturally much easier to bring people down (e.g. from a chair) than to hoist them up. So it is with individual morality in an environment of corporate depravity.

 

Philosophy of Phantasy Phootball

Adeline’s True Age

Lionsgate have released a trailer for The Age of Adeline . The film ...After miraculously remaining 29 years old for nearly eight decades, Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) has lived a solitary existence, never allowing herself to get close to anyone who might reveal her secret. But a chance encounter with charismatic philanthropist Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman) reignites her passion for life and romance. When a weekend with his parents (Harrison Ford) threatens to uncover reality, Adaline makes a decision that will change her life forever. This Kantian decision, to tell the truth always, irrespective of the consequences, ironically sets her free from the bondage and chains of time.

XLIX Ethics

With all this hoopla and outcry over the last few moments of the Superbowl, a casual observer could be led to believe that something (even of moral or ethical import) went seriously wrong.  Talk radio was abuzz assigning blame and finger pointing to the now-infamous “call” ( the Seattle Seahawks’ final offensive play was overanalyzed myriad ways. As a lifelong Hawks fan, it’s easy to look at the wrong end of a 28-24 Superbowl result, and cry “foul.” We wish to blame officials, coaches, coordinators, and/or other players or appeal to the zebra suits or a higher power for assistance in overturning the results. But the decision wasn’t a moral move, and definitely not an ethical one–even though it seems as if something went drastically awry.   The play could be described at best as unwise, and at worst foolish. Even the coaches and players ultimately assumed personal responsibility (see Russell Wilson’s and Kam Chancellor’s response in particular: http://www.fieldgulls.com/…/seahawks-players-react-to-super…

I’m sad (and probably tasted a small portion of what it felt to be a Green Bay Packers devotee a couple weeks ag0 in the NFC Championship; but the Seattle Seahawks will be back in the big game again. Or at least they ought to be . . .  See y’all in San Francisco next year. But when the emotions die down, we will realize that we failed to capitalize on a good play call against a goal line defense (designed to stuff the run (Marshawn), and Malcolm Butler made a mad play (deserving the MVP keys of that truck).  Congratulations to the New England Patriots for winning one of the greatest championships in recent memory. It was a classic battle  truly deserving of the term Super Bowl.

“Up” in the Air with Nail Houses

After a beautiful life and marriage cut short by his wife’s premature passing, Up (2009) depicts an elderly gentleman’s quest to fulfill his childhood “cross-my-heart” sweetheart promise to move to Paradise Falls in South America. Enter Russell: a young boy who is one “Be kind to the elderly” act away from earning his final badge toward becoming a Wilderness Explorer. Karl Frederickson has to continually choose between fulfilling personal desires and including Russell on his quest. Frederickson winds up discovering that the adventure doesn’t lie in the destination but in the journey. Frederickson’s nail house, which was so important to him at the beginning of the movie primarily because of its memories, gets appropriately left behind in his finding that life is never too late for new experiences. The fifth amendment of the United States Constitution generally protects private property from governmental seizure without “just compensation.” However, eminent domain (compulsory seizure for civil use, public safety, or economic development) allows the transfer of private property for the public interest in exchange for fair market value. Eminent domain represents a skirmish between individual property rights, public property, the common good, and private economic development.

The Constitution has traditionally been quite clear about public use, just compensation, and due process as prerequisites for eminent domain. But during contemporary times, Costco is a “public use”; just compensation is getting pennies on the dollar., and cities have offered owners nothing for their land, doing them “favors” to take it off their hands. So this is the world that we have come to. And how just did we get UP there?

Monday Night Considerations

A recent Monday Night Football [MNF] matchup featured a suffocating Seattle Seahawk defensive performance (8 sacks in the first half) and a grinding second-half comeback by the Green Bay Packers. Unfortunately, a replayed disputed last-second touchdown reception dominated the national airwaves for the next five days. Fortunately, this football game can be redeemed by discussing the business ethics of officiating.

In moral-decision making, similar choices produce different consequences because of contextual considerations; some actions are termed morally lucky or unlucky. For instance, a drunk driver coming home from the football game scrapes the side of a tree while another runs over a pedestrian. The first driver is the beneficiary of moral luck and public disapproval; the second driver is morally unlucky and receives outrage and disgust. It does not matter that their act of swerving in the street is exactly the same and certain circumstances (an innocent bystander walking outside) remains out of their control.

Likewise, this alleged mistaken call during MNF not only results in a morally unlucky finish for the officials but also produces the perfect unethical storm because of its timing [end of game], exposure [a nationwide football audience on Monday night], and context [replacement officials replacing striking referees]. If this call took place in another quarter or at least not during the final drive, if the game was played along with many others on Sunday, and/or if the contest was officiated by a regular NFL crew, the moral outrage would be muted or at least not have risen to this level of hyperbole. That particular call was not the only error Monday evening. Pundits acknowledged a series of gaffes throughout the game on both sides that could have changed the outcome at any given point.

What this football game shows is that non-ethical considerations (i.e. timing, exposure, context) affect how we view the morality of a given act. We hardly ever judge actions on ethical merit alone.

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Consider the financial impact of this moral decision: US$ 300 million shifting from those who bet on the Packers to those wagering on the underdog Seahawks.

Disclosure: The Monday Morning Business Ethicist is a long-time fan of the Seattle Seahawks.

 

Racial Slurs are a Matter of Ethical Context

ESPN’s use of the headline “Chink in the Armor” (describing the New York Knicks’ first loss with Asian-American, NBA point guard Jeremy Lin in the starting lineup) illustrates that ethics, while not relative, is certainly contextual. The cliché technically means weakness or flaw, but the term “Chink” is also a racial slur for Chinese-Americans (cf. using a “niggardly” reference for a selfish African-American basketball player). In the wake of “Linsanity,” puns were proliferating without regulation until a moral mishap forced corporate backpedaling and new industry standards. Former network sports editor Anthony Federico appeared to lack malicious intent with this Medieval phrase. However, the context of his oversight and implicit association of his “incite” shows that bad etymological choices can result in unemployment. The bottom line is that Federico was not fired for racism, but for making a poor editorial decision that potentially cost huge amounts of goodwill with key audiences in the United States and Asia for ESPN and parent company Walt Disney .

Consider Saturday Night Live’s sublime parody on our nation’s double standard on race and political correctness and the Daily Show’s satire on a “Lingrown toenail . . . during Black History Month.” While both sketches contained jokes and insults against Asian-Americans throughout their segments, purer purposes and comedic context provided the needed justified protection for administering racial smears.

Granted many find it unjust when minorities freely use these pejorative terms among members of their own race. Is there a double standard when a Caucasian cannot mention the word Nigga(er) and/or Chink when so many African-Americans do in greetings and in popular music, or when a younger Jeremy Lin identifies himself as ChiNkBaLLa88 on his Xanga account? It isn’t that ethics is relative (right for one group but wrong for another), but rather contextual. Minorities use these monikers with a mutual understanding that the words are not historically loaded or racially charged but accepted with affection and respect as opposed to their original meanings. For some, the co-opting of these derogatory words and phrases represent a way to master what was formerly enslaved. For others, it represents a way to deal with past pain. Whatever the solution, ethical context matters.

Honor and Redemption in Corporate Espionage

Contributing Author – Monday Morning Business Ethicist

Can Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) find honor and redemption as an industrial infiltrator? In the 11th chapter of a newly published book, Inception and Philosophy, I argue that he can . . . though only in his dreams.

Perhaps Dom has no choice in being a corporate spy and is not responsible for his actions. He may be considered honorable because of his professional expertise, or admirable devotion to family. I root for the “hero” too, but find Dom both unethically and recklessly irresponsible for violating principles of freedom.

Are we not all morally flawed and in need of redemption?

If you enjoy thinking about Inception, you’ll like this collection of 22 edited essays covering the various ethical, metaphysical, and religious themes of the film.  You can find Inception and Philosophy at Barnes and Noble, and sneak a peak at Amazon.com.

Say it isn’t, Joe.

Ten years after the Enron Corporation was exposed for its massively systemic and cleverly-planned ongoing accounting fraud, the moral structure of college football is being shaken to its core at Penn State University.

Prospective institutional cover-up for act(s) of sexual abuse allegedly committed by head football coach Joe Paterno’s former defensive coordinator and charges of multiple subsequent infractions have already brought down Penn’s State organizational leadership and storied football program. Will the Nittany Lion’s devotion to a winning culture and Paterno’s subscription to resilience and ‘enduring adversity’ eventually parallel Enron’s obsession with profit at any cost and adherence to their former CEO’s ‘survival of the fittest’ principles?

The developing scandal emits conflicting emotions: I am torn by the outpouring of support for an 84-year-old legend who has earnestly dedicated himself to building a long tradition of winning with integrity without the infamous scandals often associated with a major college program. I am sad for these young, innocent boys who would not have experienced further horrors if someone in power had pushed the issue. Properly evaluating a rapidly developing news story is difficult; determining the relevant ethical considerations may represent the best next step i.e., the distinction between law and ethics, and the connection of responsibility to leadership.

Corporations like Enron were familiar with the law; they knew how to exploit and profit from it. University President Graham Spanier and Head Football Coach Joe Paterno met all legal requirements and will not be tried in a criminal court. The ethical question is whether they failed to meet their moral duties and obligations as human persons. Even more so—in their de facto roles as leaders, figureheads, and guardians in their community—greater responsibility is often associated with greater privilege. What personal responsibilities do individuals have beyond their specific job descriptions? Is an act of omission as heinous as the sin of commission?

The university has decided in the best interest of ‘business’ to relieve Spanier and Paterno of their responsibilities. Further clarity is needed before passing judgment on whether Penn State shares a similar aura of hubris with Enron. Even without the pride, their indecision produces greater consequences than even the dissolution of a major corporation.

In the business of uncovering the truth in the digital age, this game will have no winners. Prayers, comfort, and support to the victims and their families.

Structurally Unlucky

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-zczJXSxnw]

 

During a lecture hosted by our university’s engineering department, I was introduced to the Paradox of Design:

The lessons learned—from historically massive engineering failures such as steamships (Titanic) and suspensions bridges (Tacoma Narrows Bridge)—lead to success in future innovations; however, successful designs can evolve into eventual failures.

Dr. Henry Petroski, Professor of Civil Engineering and History at Duke University

If the Titanic had not struck an iceberg, bigger ships with fewer lifeboats would have been built. If the Narrows Bridge’s retrofitted cables had not snapped, thinner and lighter bridges without trusses and stays would have spanned the world’s waters. According to Petroski, “When something just works, we may not know how close we stand next to failure.”

I see clear parallels between these engineering disasters and the collapse of the financial sector. Economic institutions incrementally moved from investing in sound traditional strategies toward speculations in creative derivatives; initial success invited additional risk exposure. Philosopher Bernard Williams coined a notion of ‘Moral Luck,’ where the same act can produce wildly different outcomes, and praise and blame are assigned for partially uncontrolled circumstances. In this lucky or unlucky world, the Titanic does not hit the iceberg; Tacoma still has their bridge; the housing bubble has not burst . . . disaster is momentarily delayed for a much larger breakdown.

Yet while continued success can pave the way for larger failures, I’m not a Luddite who opposes progress. Engineers and economists need to take creative and innovative steps in design and application. Of course, ethical foundations are often found lacking. Increased regulation always follows tragedy and failure, resulting in a better artifact, community, or corporate structure for the short term. Ultimately, a well-established prior corporate ethos (structure/character) frames the proper boundaries and appropriate risks in future decision making—especially in times of success.

Thanks to Professor Petroski for connecting the history of suspension arches to design theory; and to my father for showing his son the buildings and bridge(s) he helped design as a structural engineer.