The Operating System (OS) of Ethical Business

Bryan Johnson recently made a $100 million gift to launch the OS Fund. The OS Fund invests in bold, high-return ideas that “promise to reinvent the operating systems of life.”

Why is this relevant to ethical systems design? Because we’re trying to rewrite the OS of business to make it the primary driver of flourishing societies and there’s a lot to learn from their approach. There’s a quantum leap within reach by applying behavioral ethics, behavioral economics, psychology and systems thinking to business. 

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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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Collaborators in the news for October


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Featured Collaborator of the Month: Nicholas Epley

Featured Collaborator of the Month:

Professor Nicholas Epley, author of Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want is the featured collaborator of the month for November. 

This section includes:

  • An interview with Professor Epley about his work and ethical systems design
  • A video of a talk he’s given
  • One of his academic articles
  • A popular article published in Salon
  • A summary of his recent book Mindwise
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Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want

Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want

by Nicholas Epley

Knopf, Borzoi Books (2014)

Summarized by Bryan Turner


Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want is a book about our “sixth sense”, or mindreading, but there’s nothing supernatural about it. Epley is an experimental social psychologist, and this is a book about his research into how we understand the intentions, motives, thoughts, beliefs, feelings and wants of ourselves and others, our mistakes in doing so, and what we can do to correct for these predictable errors.

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Why all of us could face UNC’s problem

[This article was originally posted on Max Bazerman's Linkedin page] 

The recent revelations that at least 3,100 students at the University of North Carolina, many of them athletes, took fake “paper classes” over the course of 18 years stands out as the greatest documented case of fraud in college athletics. Unfortunately, however, this type of unethical behavior is common across organizations and industries—and it shares common roots.

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A powerful ethical intervention is just one pet story away

The natural conditions of the business world are breeding grounds for what psychologists call moral disengagement.  The psychology of moral disengagement allows us to do bad stuff and still feel okay about ourselves.  We morally disengage when we behave as a collective rather than as individuals, view others as numbers more than people, and distance ourselves from the impact of our decisions.  In other words, if we work in an organization and do not have personal contact with customers, we are likely to morally disengage.  This is dangerous, because a tight link between moral disengagement and unethical behavior has been found time and again by psychologists.  How can we break this link?

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Effective C&E Programs: The Justice Department Speaks

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

Last week, together with David Wilkins of SNC-Lavalin, I chaired the Practising Law Institute’s Advanced Compliance & Ethics Workshop.  Marshall Miller, the number 2 in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, gave the keynote address, which was subsequently posted on the Department’s web site.  Among the important points he made were the following.

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#EthSys Insights 7: Michael Posner

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

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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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