The Excuses We Make


So on the way to the airport, I am talking with the Uber driver. 

“There is such a discrepancy between the rich and the poor here,” I say.

“Yeah,” she says, “When I drive and stop at the lights, there are many poor people that come up to the car looking for a handout.”

She continues, “I usually have a few dollars here” pointing to the little cubby hole under the parking break. 

“But my friends make fun of me saying, they [the panhandlers] are just going to go out and buy a beer!”

Excuse #1 not to give poor people–they’ll misuse our charity and buy alcohol, drugs, or prostitutes. 

The driver says, “But so what…if I were in their shoes, I’d buy a beer too.”

I’m thinking, hey this is nice…she’s fighting the bad inclination and her friends pressure and still wants to give–this is great!

Sure enough, we stop at a red light, and a really poor man starts walking up to the window to ask for help.

This person is dressed in dirty battered rags of an undershirt, and has sores on their arms and body.

The driver says, “Yeah, if I gave him, he’d probably just switch his shirt inside out later [as if the other side would be magically less dirty and ripped] and go home to his Rolls Royce!”

Wow, when excuse #1 doesn’t hold…

Excuse #2–the poor people are just faking it…really they aren’t poor, but rather they are fantastically rich and trying to pocket some more money for free.

It’s like the evil inclination sitting on one shoulder telling us “don’t give,”  even as the good inclination is sitting over our other shoulder beseeching us to have mercy and “give, give, give.”

In this case, the evil inclination won out. 

I reached for my wallet and wanted to open my window, but honestly this person looked scary–dirty and maybe sick–I was afraid of this person. 

I hope G-d forgives me, because I feel it wasn’t my evil inclination making excuses, but this time it was genuine for me. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

RIM Is Doomed

Judge David Young of Court TV has a frequent saying that “Denial is not a river in Egypt.”
When it comes to Research In Motion (RIM) the maker of the traditional organization mobile Blackberry device, denial now seems on par for their course.

On Tuesday (3 July 2012), the new CEO of RIM, Thorstein Heins was quoted as saying “There’s nothing wrong with the company as it exists right now.”

Yet since Mr. Heins took over RIM in January, the company’s stock is down 50% and is down more than 90% from it’s mid-2008 highs.

BlackBerry continues to lose out to stronger competitors like the iPhone and Android. On May 25, Digital trends reported in an article called “Poor BlackBerry” on IDC’s 2nd quarter 2012 marketshare numbers for Smartphones with Android at around 60%, iPhone at 23%, and Blackberry at a mere 6%.

Further the new Blackberry 10 has been twice delayed, and RIM announced it’s first operating loss in eight years, as it plans to downsize 5,000 employees (or a third of its workforce).

In the self-help industry, it is frequently said that the first step to getting better is to recognize that you have a problem.

In the case of RIM–we are looking at a company that unfortunately is either playing it too cool to be real with their customers and the marketplace, or they are in a deep and dangerous case of utter denial.

Either way, unless RIM takes decisive action soon–and that means first and foremost, coming to terms with their predictment and second, coming out with some major new disruptive technology for the mobile marketplace–they are doomed to the annals of tech history.
(Source Photo: here with attribution to Steve Jurvetson)

The Truth About Lying


House MD said it first “Everybody lies; the only variable is about what.”

This weekend’s Wall Street Journal (26-27 May 2012)–states that research confirms this as truth.

“Everyone cheats a little right up to the point where they lose their sense of integrity.”

According to the article–“very few people steal to a maximum degree, but many good people cheat just a little here and there.”

They pad their billable hours, underreport their earnings to the IRS, claim higher loses on insurance claims, pocket a little from the cash register, walk out of the store without paying, copy test answers, plagiarize someone’s intellectual property, and the list goes on and on.

Already in the Ten Commandments, we see the fundamental precept of “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

Yet according to the research, people’s dishonesty is enabled by their disposition to:

– Rationalize away the crime.

– Overshadow it with previous immoral acts.

– Excuse the behavior by stating that everyone does it.

– Minimize the significance of the wrongdoing.

– Claim it is necessary or for the greater good.

Interestingly, factors that we would think would have a big impact on dishonesty, don’t–such as either the amount of money to gained or the probability of being caught.

Apparently, the cost-benefit calculus is not the driving factor in wrong-doing, but rather the absence of “moral reminders” and of enforcement/supervision is what creates the fertile ground for people to do the wrong–whether because they can, for the thrill of it, or because in their minds it “levels the playing field.”

Everyone has the capacity for evil and to do wrongdoing, but the vast majority of the people with the right moral guidance will do mostly the right things.

“Except for a few outliers at the top and bottom, the behaviors of almost everyone is driven by two opposing motivations”–these are greed and fear.

One one hand, greed drives people to push themselves and work hard, but it can also be used to go overboard to the point of acting dishonestly–to take what is not theirs and to lie about it.

On the other hand, fear of losing our integrity keeps people’s unbridled desires in check and perhaps even motivates us to give back to others, but fear can also can inhibit people from giving it their all.

The ongoing interplay between greed and fear long known to drive financial markets are the underpinnings for our own moral tug-of-war.

Balancing greed and fear is a powerful embrace that can propel humankind powerfully forward with drive and motivation or undermine its very existence through inhibition and dishonesty.

Reading the article and the underlying research was upsetting to me to see that so many people can be swayed seemingly so easily to have such little integrity.

And while most situations in life are not “black and white”–they are complex shades of gray–people can be tempted to rationalize even when they really know what they are doing in misguided.

This is the ultimate personal challenge for all of us–to maintain our integrity in the face of all temptations and readily available excuses out there.

G-d speed in making good moral and productive choices.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Gerard Stolk)

>Managing with Integrity


Most professionals know instinctively that they should act with integrity, if only to avoid getting caught. Yet, of course, not everyone does.

Whether it’s Bernie Madoff ripping off investors to the tune of $50 billion or the store cashier helping themselves to $5 from the register, many people make poor ethical decisions.

Given human nature being the way it is, it’s not surprising when people are tempted to do bad things. What is a little harder to understand is when managers, who may have to answer for the conduct of others, look away when they see it happening.

This is the subject of an article in Harvard Business Review (March 2010) called “Keeping Your Colleagues Honest.” According to the article, here are the four “classic rationalizations” that keep managers silent in the face of wrongdoing:

  • “It’s standard practice”—or everyone was doing it and so that makes it okay.
  • “It’s not a big deal”—some people state it this way, “no harm, no foul.”
  • “It’s not my responsibility”—or as the Bible put it, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
  • “I want to be loyal”—or don’t be a Benedict Arnold.

HBR gives some suggestions for handling ethical dilemmas in the organization:

  1. Recognize that this is part of your job”—“people tend to view ethical conflict as aberrations…[but] that’s just not true….[it’s] a regular part of professional life.”
  2. “Make long-term risks more concrete”—all too often people get caught up in the moment and want or feel they need to take the easy way out. So a good strategy for helping people to behave more ethically involves pointing out the risks and possible long-term consequences of the behavior.
  3. “Challenge the rationalizations”—For example: “if this is standard practice, why is there a policy against it? Or if it is expected, are we comfortable being public about it?”
  4. Present an alternative”—Some mistakenly believe that ethical choices are not rewarded and are simply “naïve idealism,” and that we “have no choice” sometimes in doing the wrong thing. However, great managers recognize that there is always a choice.

There is no doubt that it is hard for managers to have to stand up for what’s right. There is always organizational pressure to get along, go along, and make things happen.

But in the end, we are accountable for our choices, whether we feel comfortable about it or not and whether they involve action or passivity.

In my experience, most people have a conscience and will try to do what is right. However, it is only a very few who have the self-confidence, the character, and the fortitude to stand up and follow their conscience even when it’s not easy, not convenient, not cheap, not fun, not popular, not beneficial in the short-term or even the long. (And there is not a clear playbook for every situation.)

I believe that making tough choices is our test and our trust in life, to do what we believe is right and ethical. It’s not only our greatest professional challenge but also our greatest personal one, and we cannot rationalize it away.