Thursday, January 22, 2015

Everyone Who Does It Can Still Be Wrong

I recently had a very unpleasant conversation with someone who thinks that brazenly unethical actions in business are somehow excusable because "everyone does them."  Her moral lapse was breathtaking for someone who claimed to possess more than one advanced degree.  I might as well describe what's wrong with this mentality.  Some of you will benefit.

If you had good parents, they probably told you at some point that you shouldn't do some dumb thing just because all of your idiot friends were doing it too.  Phrasing it for a pre-teen goes something like this:  "If everyone jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, would you do it too?"  The pre-teens who don't listen become adults like the young woman I mentioned at the top of the article.  Lots of dumb kids grow up to be idiot adults.

Entrepreneurs often find the temptation to embellish their backgrounds irresistible.  Those who give in to temptation invite disappointment when investors complete their due diligence and find no corroboration.  Investors check out people's educational backgrounds.  Alluding to a nonexistent degree in a pitch is cringe worthy behavior.  Attending a couple of seminars at Stanford doesn't count as an educational qualification.  People should know this, but they don't and they pitch anyway.

Lying early and often about something leads down a slippery slope.  Misrepresenting product capabilities, warranty commitments, or the legal fine print of a contract is usually actionable in civil litigation.  Pitching lies to a lot of very stupid people is often a quick way to riches and a long road to court problems.  The court then forces disgorgement of said riches, with other penalties piled on top.  Check out case histories at the FTC and SEC for businesses that tried to get away with making false claims.

Even grown-ups need reminders that the lowest common denominator behavior of crowds is not an acceptable substitute for ethical reasoning.  Adults who can't take the hint need to stay far away from me forever.  Business people who lie cannot be leaders.