Ethics is asking the right questions

Ethicability

I have just finished reading Ethicability by Roger Steare – the ‘corporate philosopher’ who researches and writes on ethics in business.

It is an amazingly inspiring book that really makes you analyse the kind of actions and decisions you take in business, and why you take them.

The definition of ‘ethicability’, which is also the strapline for the book, is ‘how to decide what’s right and find the courage to do it’.

But it’s not a dogmatic book at all – it just helps you find your own moral direction. In business, maybe more so than in personal life, doing what’s right isn’t always easy, which is why we need to be in touch with our own sense of personal and social responsibility. Roger Steare recommends we should be constantly, consciously improving our integrity, that is personal qualities such as courage, humility and patience.

He divides our ‘drivers’ into three. First is our personal conscience, our inner sense of right and wrong and the values that guide us most of the time. He then points out that we often reserve our best behaviour for certain people, our nearest and dearest, and apply different values to people outside that circle.

This is where the second driver, social conscience comes in – keeping an eye on the bigger picture and trying to be aware of how our behaviour affects everyone involved in our lives and our work. It’s this that, for example, would make people decide to pay tax rather than avoid it, even though legal loopholes offer that option, because they want to make a fair contribution to their community.

This brings me to the third driver, ‘rule compliance’, which also guides a lot of what we do. Like the other two, when this is taken to an extreme it becomes harmful. A famous experiment showed 63 per cent of people were happy to give a lethal electric shock to someone simply because they were told to. This demonstrated the sinister effect of a society with too many rules – we give up our sense of personal and social responsibility.

Ideally we would be guided by what Steare calls the ‘Philosopher’s Golden Rule’ – where we ask ourselves the question: how would I feel in that person’s situation? Then add the ‘Philosopher’s Golden Mean’ where we decide for ourselves what would be fair and reasonable.

Overall this book encourages you to ask yourself the right questions when making decisions. I found it very inspiring, and I really agree with it – I strongly believe that what goes around comes around, and just because we are in business and trying to make a profit, we shouldn’t be doing it at the expense of anyone else’s welfare.

It’s important to do well in business, but it’s also important to be a good person and do the right thing – knowing you are doing the right thing brings a lot of confidence and self-respect.

I would highly recommend Ethicability both as a book and also as a business philosophy.