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To improve ethics, changing people matters less, and changing situations matters more, than you probably think

Jonathan Haidt and I recently had the good fortune to have lunch with David Einhorn (the founder of Greenlight Capital) and his team at the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust (EFCT).  EFCT works on promoting empathy to help people get along better.  It’s a great mission and has substantial overlap with Jon’s Civil Politics project.  To prepare we tried to think through how we could best help EFCT accomplish their goals.  Three things stood out that are relevant to Ethical Systems: 

1) People matter less, and situations matter more, than you probably think

2) “Homo duplex” and behavioral ethics are the new behavioral economics for flourishing

3) We need a clearer understanding of the tools available to promote cooperation

This post is about the first point.

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Come Work with Us

We’re looking to add an experienced communications person to our team.  Job description below.

Do you believe that business can be a much greater force for good in the world?  Do you want to help us make it so? We’re a non-profit collaboration of researchers at America’s top business schools who are drawing on the best social science research to help companies improve their ethical culture and behavior.

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The Habits of a[n Ethical] Systems Thinker

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Image of Daniel Goleman via Wikimedia Commons

Renowned scholars Daniel Goleman and Peter Senge have teamed up to write a book titled, The Triple Focus:  A New Approach to Education [public library]. Their book is primarily targeted toward the education of school children, but they also intend for it to have a much broader applicability “across all curricula and ages.”

In Goleman’s LinkedIn post about the book’s release, What are the Habits of a Systems Thinker, he highlights the following:

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Prosecutors, massive fines and moral hazard

[This essay was originally posted on the Conflict of Interest Blog.]

Many years ago, I lived next door to a young police officer and his family who, while presumably paid a modest salary, drove a pretty expensive car.   He was able to do this, I learned, because his department seized autos (and other property) of various suspected offenders and then let its officers drive the vehicles for their personal use.  Although he seemed in every respect like an honorable young man, the impact that this practice could have – and also appear to have – on law enforcement decisions left me feeling uneasy.

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The Slippery Slope to Habitual Unethical Behavior and How to Prevent It

Ethical Systems collaborator Francesca Gino has a piece in the Harvard Business Review on how unethical behavior becomes habit.  It turns out that people are much more likely to engage in unethical behavior when it occurs bit by bit, slowly over time, rather than in one large, decisive unethical decision.  However, as Gino writes, "Our research similarly indicates that ethical nudges can help people avoid the types of indiscretions that might start them down the slippery slope." 

Click here for the full article on HBR and here for more research and some ideas to apply on how to reduce cheating and increase honesty. 

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New proof that good ethics is good business

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Three Stories about the Ethics of Capitalism

[Cross posted from RighteousMind.com. Ethical Systems design is a way to make the 3rd story about capitalism come true]

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#EthSys Insights 6: Jeffrey Kaplan

#EthSys Insights is a video series where we have experts answer questions about ethical systems design.

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Week That Was in Ethical Systems, 5/12/14-5/25/14

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#EthSys Insights 5: Barry Schwartz

#EthSys Insights is a video series where we have experts answer questions about ethical systems design.

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