On The Centrality Of Ethics And Practical Wisdom To The Workability Of Our Lives, Our Organisations, Our Institutions

This is a conversation about ethics and wisdom.  As such it is unfashionable – not in tune with the cultural context amidst which we live our lives.

This conversation will not make you a smarter-more cunning marketer. Nor will it increase your close rate and drive up your sales effectiveness. It definitely will not help you to talk lyrically about the customer whilst doing everything in your power to reduce the level of service your provide to your customers after they have become customers.  If this is why you find yourself here then I suggest you leave now. 

Do Ethics and Wisdom Matter In A ‘Scientific’ Age?

On my LinkedIn profile I have written the following:

Inspired by the possibility of a world that works for all, none excluded. Committed to being a source of workability-performance-transformation. And travelling through life in a manner that elevates-honours all. Enjoy conversations of the authentic-human kind.

What is the scientific basis for this freely chosen way of showing up and travelling in this world?  What is the ROI?  The first question can only be asked by a man of ‘reason’ – one working in a laboratory, with no worldly entanglements, and a limited, possibly non-existent, moral horizon.  The second question is probably the fundamental question that every Taker asks himself: what is in it for me, personally?

I find neither of these questions relevant as I strive to show up and operate from an ethical stance. Not a scientific stance. Nor a ROI stance.  Does ethics and moral wisdom matter?  Can we live well, given that living well always involves living well with others, by embracing ‘reason’ and ROI?  Put differently, is ethics and moral wisdom mere superstition and as such can be jettisoned?  Let’s leave aside the theory and look at the phenomena.

Shambles and Lack Of Empathy At Gatwick Airport

Yesterday, Ian Golding wrote the following:

In all my years travelling to and from the UK, I have never witnessed a queue for passport control quite like it. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people were snaking around the airport building. Everyone looked rather bewildered….

….. for the 50 minutes I battled through the queue, I heard not one announcement, and not one member of staff from either Gatwick Airport or the border force bothered to make themselves visible to help or advise passengers……..

The experience was not made any better by finally arriving at a desk. As my passport was taken out of my hand, I was not greeted by an apology, or even an acknowledgement of the wait. Instead, I was told that ‘this is not my fault, it’s the system’…..

I do not hold them responsible for there clearly being no contingency plan in place. However I do expect that they should be able to empathise with the people they are serving.

Now here is something that speaks volumes for those who have the listening for it:

Credit should be given to the thousands of customers who quietly and diligently stood in line. I personally did not witness a raised word despite the shambles – there was almost a sad acceptance that this happens in the UK

If you can read the following article and pay particular attention to the language of the several officials:

A government spokesman said: “We are currently experiencing temporary IT problems which may add to the time taken to conduct passport checks…. We are working to rectify this issue and are providing extra staff to get passengers through the controls as quickly as possible. Our priority remains security of the border. We apologise for any additional time this adds to passengers’ journeys.”

A Heathrow spokesman said: “There are some longer queues than normal in the terminals but we have spoken to border force and they are putting on extra staff… Obviously we want to sort the issue out but not risk the integrity of the border controls.”

Ask yourself if these words could be spoken by a robots. Better still ask yourselves whether these words are more befitting of robots or human beings?  Ask yourself where, in these words, there is any care-concern-empthy for the human beings who found themselves amidst the shambles, trying to figure out what was going on. And many of who will have missed their onward connections and found themselves fending for themselves.

How Did The Staff At Sports Direct Treat A Young Mother?

Yesterday, I came across this article about a protest by mothers at a Sports Direct store. What led to this protest?

.….. staff members allegedly told Wioletta Komar that she could not breast feed her baby because it was “against company policy”.  She was then made to leave the store and continue feeding her child in the rain while she waited for her husband, according to the Nottingham Post.  Mrs Komar claims she has complained to the store five times since the incident, but has received no response…

Do we have so little regard-love for our own mothers so that we can accord no consideration-respect to this mother?

Where is our sense of decency, of fellow feeling, of moral wisdom?  What would it have taken for a member of staff to go up to Wioletta, invite her into the staff room, offer her a chair?  And in the process connect with her as a fellow human being.

What does the law say on this matter?  According to the article:

Breastfeeding in public is protected by the Equality Act 2010, which states that businesses must not discriminate against a woman who is breastfeeding.

The Nonsense of Scientific Management: What Gets Measured Gets Done, Really?

I can think of no better example of the folly of mere ‘scientific’ thinking-acting than the exclusive focus on metrics, incentives (rewards) and punishments. Some are so lacking in practical wisdom that they loudly proclaim: what gets measured gets done!

Successive UK government’s have made a big play of how crime is coming down. Metrics driven crime recording and performance management systems have been put in place. And the figures have consistently showed a drop in crime.

What does the first official inquiry into the accuracy of the crime figures provided by the police have to say?  Here are the highlights from this article:

The police are failing to record as much as 20% of crime – equal to three-quarters of a million offences – including 14 cases of rape and some serious sexual offences…..

The interim report also shows that some offenders have been issued with out-of-court fixed penalty fines when they should have been prosecuted instead…

…… police failure to record crime properly may stem from poor knowledge of the rules or workload but adds that he can’t rule out that it might be the result of discreditable or unethical behaviour by officers.

Well are the crime figures being deliberately fiddled or is it just pure incompetence?  One way of answering this question is to ask how did this official inquiry come about?  According to the same article:

The interim report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Tom Winsor, was ordered by the home secretary following claims of widespread fiddling of the police recorded crime figures by a whistleblower which have been endorsed by MPs.

Let’s take a moment to get present to what is happening here!  The very people who are charged with upholding the law are not.  Why not? I say that the ethical foundation and moral wisdom that is the essential ground for effective policing and the just rule of the law is no longer present: if it not dead then surely it is on it’s deathbed.

Does this fiddling of crime figures matter?  Does it really matter?  It seems rather academic doesn’t it?  What is the big deal if the police are failing to record up to 20% of crime.  Now I invite you to step away from the deliberately bland language of academic-managerial-political speech and look at the phenomena: the human impact. What is the human impact? Here are examples that bring the human back into the conversation:

Among the cases HMIC cites as wrongly written off are:

• An allegation by a 13-year-old autistic boy who told his parents he had been raped by a 15-year-old male friend which was wrongly written off by the police as sexual experimentation.

• A report to the police of rape by a doctor on behalf of a female patient who had consented to sex but told the man to stop when it began to hurt. A supervisory officer ruled that no crime had occurred.

This is not the only case of unethical behaviour, lack of integrity, and the lack of moral wisdom.  Just this week I came across this article: Department for Work is government’s worst at providing a living wage.  Why is this a big deal?  Because it is the government department that pays taxpayer funded top ups for those of our fellow human beings on low pay. And this government department was the first one to ‘commit itself to paying a living wage, a voluntary scheme under which employers pledge to supplement the legally binding national minimum wage.’

Case after case suggests that the lack of integrity, unethical behaviour and the lack of practical-moral wisdom is now the norm: the default setting at all levels of society. 

What Is The Cause Of The Loss Of Moral Wisdom And Lack Of Ethical Thought-Behaviour?

In the age of enlightenment where ‘reason’ and science were being embraced and the old world order was collapsing some saw the perils down the road.  Let’s listen:

What conclusion is to be drawn from this paradox so worthy of being born in our time; and what will become of virtue when one has to get rich at all costs. The ancient political thinkers forever spoke of morals and virtue; ours speak only of commerce and money.

- Jean Jacques Rousseau, Discourses on the Sciences and Arts

I get that you may not have the same interest-passion for dead philosophers as I do. So allow me to share with you the voice of Barry Schwartz – a psychologist and professor of sociology.

Barry Schwartz On The Loss of Practical And Especially Moral Wisdom

Barry Schwatz has delivered a number of TED talks. This talk was delivered in 2009 and TED describes it as follows:

Barry Schwartz makes a passionate call for “practical wisdom” as an antidote to a society gone mad with bureaucracy. He argues powerfully that rules often fail us, incentives often backfire, and practical, everyday wisdom will help rebuild our world.

And Finally

I leave you with these final thoughts:

First, as Heidegger pointed out we do not live-operate in a scientific laboratory an ‘objective’ observers looking at the world.  No, we are an intrinsic part of the world: a human being is ALWAYS a being-in-the-world even when s/he dies.

Second, a human being is never just a being-in-the-world. S/he is always and necessarily a being-in-the-world-with-others. Ask yourself in what sense you could possibly be a human being if you were magically born into a world without human beings. Ask yourself where you would be if upon birth there was no human being there to care for you.

Third, a human being is being whose being is to necessarily take a stand on his being. Another way of saying this is to ‘existence is our essence’ or ‘custom is our nature’. Which is to say we collectively make ourselves through our vision of what it is to be a human being. Each age is characterised by a particular vision of what it is to be a human being.

Fourth, we have, on the whole and for the most part especially in organisation and institutional settings, become heartless, self-interested, calculating-manipulative, creatures because we have bought into and been conditioned into this way of thinking and operating as human beings..

Fifth, look around and get present to that which is so. The flowering of the scientific view of man and the world has not brought us to lived experience of nirvana. What it has brought us is longer lives and more comfort.  And on the whole and for the most part we do not find ourselves happier. We do not find ourselves experiencing aliveness-fulfillment-joy.  We find ourselves living in a world devoid of the basics (compassion, empathy, kindness, brotherhood) that make a human life truly worth living. 

Sixth, you and I have a choice to bring ethical living and practical-moral wisdom back into the worlds in which we show up and travel. How? Be expanding our definition of ‘reason’ to include ethics and practical-moral wisdom.  And by so doing we will be giving back to the term ‘reason’ to its original fullness – that which was so before the modern age reduced ‘reason’ to its current understanding-practice

If you have made it this far, I thank you for the generosity of your listening. And I invite you to show up and travel as a leader in life by taking the lead in embodying ethical practices and moral wisdom.

 

Posted on May 2, 2014, in Case Studies, Integrity, Leadership / Change / Transformation, Organisational Design, Social and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Maz, before I started my own business I worked for IBM. JIBM was very metrics driven already in the 80s. The last years before I left I became salesman who I thought would be the one to be the most creative solution finder for his customers. Well, it turned out to be that 80% of my time I had to perform administrative tasks and many of those had to do not only with tricking the ordering system into actually supplying what I needed for the customer, getting permission from European headquarters for offering a better price, and for entering all the numbers into the sales management system, which was important as it calculated my bonus. What I found is that not only did IBM use the system to motivate sales to sell certain solutions regardless of what the customer needed, but the system was heavily misused by teh sales to create sales figures that increased their bonuses. The real nonsense was that if you actually far overachieved your targets then IBM would adjust them to much higher, claiming that targets were incorrectly set.

    It is so obvious that any system that measures with develop a counteraction to influence those measurements to the personal preference by any means possible. How easy that is and how silly some measurements are, simply read Freakonomics by Steven Levitt. Systems theory and systems thinking both talk about rule-beating behavior in complex adaptive (a.k.a human) systems caused by rules.

    So clearly, scientific management which is from 1910, and yes, ‘Measure to Manage’ is a ridiculous notion. Therefore orthodox BPM as well as SixSigma are tools for the clueless, timid and self-serving.

    I do propose however that a middle ground must be found, which is for me the key aspect of acting WISE. Wisdom has to do with setting the right goals and some of them can be and ought to be enumerable. Compassion is a matter of setting priorities. Anytime a number becomes more important than human feelings we are failing as a human.

    Yes, the world is not a laboratory and vice versa. We can’t put humans into one and expect them to act the same way as in the real world. Each human interaction remains unique and unpredictable and most certainly not by means of Big Data. That makes human interaction so relevant to our lives. Even reading, mobile phones, email, chat, message boards all suffer from a diminishing quality in the benefits of human interaction. It is easy to say NO to an opportunity to reduce suffering or pain without looking into a persons eye. Not so in person.

    Any CEO who does not spend substantial time to meet actual customers in person should be fired immediately!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Max,
      It occurs to me, as a result of lived and living experience, that the world that you describe at IBM continues.

      I find myself in agreement with that which you assert. Especially so when you speak of wisdom, goals, priorities and compassion. Yes, it occurs to me that wisdom starts with a particular clarity on what constitutes a great live – as lived. This one learns by living-experimenting-learning. Then it occurs to me that wisdom requires a honest-straight look into the human being and the world just as it is, and is not. Then with this understanding, one consciously chooses to travel the middle path. I for example, enjoy being alone-solitary – this allows me to think. I enjoy being in the company of people – i enjoy conversation, humour, sharing a meal together, going on a walk together… Yet each path leaves me, eventually, dissatisfied. And now I travel the middle path: seeking to build in both human company and solitude rather like the way day-night arise-operate together or activity-sleep.

      You make an excellent point about the difference (as regards connection-compassion) between being directly in contact with the ‘other’. And ‘seeing’ the other through spreadsheets and presentations. There is a world of difference. And still, I find myself reminded by the the fact of slavery in America. Or the annihilation of the indigenous American indians. Here there was direct human contact. What got in the way of compassion: ideology and human self-interest.

      I wish you well. And I thank you for sharing that which you have shared. I find it delightful that my speaking has a listening. And that listening speaks to me. Which in turns gives me an opportunity to listen-speak. Thank you, live well, make it great weekend, week, life.

      At your service / with my love
      maz

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  2. It is a funny thing Maz, but as a race we are not good at admitting when we have something wrong. I see this all the time in my daughters who rarely take accountability for their own actions.

    But it is only when we do so that we learn and get any better.

    Like

    • Hello James,

      I thank you for sharing. I find myself to be in total agreement with you. And it occurs to me that each of us can take on the challenge and thus set an example. I do know that if I take the time to think on stuff, I am better able to see where i am wrong. Once I see that I am wrong and then admit that I am wrong I find myself feeling great about that which I have done.

      All the best
      maz

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