You Cheat – Honest!

June 13, 2012 by Bill Bradley


Title: Cheat, And the Whole World Cheats With You

Competency: ethics

Who benefits: everyone

Consultant Usage: in my humble opinion, mandatory reading for any consultant

What’s it about? If you are a regular reader you already know that ethics is a big deal with me.  I am proud of the young people from Harvard who wrote The MBA Oath: Setting a Higher Standard for Business Leaders in response to Enron, Madoff, Big Banks, Wall Street.  I hailed Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel who wrote Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload, a journalistic view of how the media spin the truth in attempts to out fox us, or rush us to idiotic conclusions.

Any reader of this Blog knows about the Big Time Collusions.  But have you ever thought about Dishonesty and our Culture?  About Dishonesty and Self?  Dan Ariely has.  And he has written a terrific if not slightly terrifying book about it.  The book is The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves.  The book is easy to read.  Interesting, entertaining, good stories.  But mostly it is uncomfortable.  Like 360 degree feedback, it can be hard to take.  Everyone is dishonest?  Me?  Yeah, you!

Ariely makes this interesting observation: We all lie up to our sense of integrity.  Is your resume 100% accurate?  Are your tax documents 100%?  Did you ever play Solitaire and make an “adjustment”?  Have your kids ever said “Everyone is doing it?” and where did they learn that?

How about golf?  Ever wonder why where the ball rests is called a “lie”?  Do you know the expression “improving your lie”?  Get the ball close to the hole and we take a “gimmie”.

When you are in court they don’t ask you to “tell the truth.”  They ask you to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”  Why?  Because if you only tell the truth, no tellin’ how much you can lie by leaving out the rest.

We are mostly honest, but cheating, it seems, is infectious.  Here is what Ariely says about it: “We like to believe that a few bad apples spoil the virtuous bunch. But (our) research shows that everyone cheats a little….

“Everybody has the capacity to be dishonest, and almost everybody cheats—just by a little. Except for a few outliers at the top and bottom, the behavior of almost everyone is driven by two opposing motivations. On the one hand, we want to benefit from cheating and get as much money and glory as possible; on the other hand, we want to view ourselves as honest, honorable people.”

What scares me the most is “small-scale mass cheating, not the high-profile cases, that is most corrosive to society.”  I read in a good book once this advice “Ye without sin cast the first stone.”  At the very least it doesn’t hurt for each of us to take a hard … very hard … look in the mirror and explore our sense of integrity.

Have I ever cheated?  Yes, but all that makes me is an honest cheater.

Want the short version?  Read “Why We Lie” in a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal.

Catch you later.

Bill Bradley (mostly) retired after 35 years in organizational consulting, training and management development. During those years he worked internally with seven organizations and trained and consulted externally with more than 90 large and small businesses, government agencies, hospitals and schools.

Posted in Engagement

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  1. jeanne hartley says:

    This topic has always been of inteest to me; I know we all lie some, so when my studends give me reasons for not doing something, it is so refreshing when they just say “I didnt get around to it.” And I hate to say it, but when I think about “what will I say…” that is my clue that I’m about to make up a white lie (we call them that so we can do it) and I remind myslef that lying takes energy, because I am going to have to remember it. I read a funny book “A Year of Living Biblically” by AJ Jacobs where he tries to live by all the specific rules in the Bible and the chapter on not lying was very funny and very true. Read that book if you haven’t. It is a laugh out loud book. Jeanne

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