I experienced a hilarious contradiction of ethics. Hilarious at the time, but now that I think about it more, it was actually pretty scary.
Each week during the school year I teach entrepreneurship classes to high school seniors as a Junior Achievement volunteer. Junior Achievement supplies the curriculum, solicits interested high school teachers and puts them into contact with volunteers like me to teach the courses to their students.
The entrepreneurship course is an hour a week for seven with topics including market analysis, differentiation, product development, marketing, ethics and business planning. Ethics is always my favorite because of the fun discussions it elicits.
One of the activities this week involved role play. I approached each student and said, “I’m your co-worker. I have discovered how to hack the time clock to add 45 minutes to everyone’s pay without getting caught. Now what do you do?”
The students’ reactions ranged from asking “Hook me up” and show us how to do it too to turning the other way and ignoring the thief. Not one student was ready to turn me in for stealing, and this was at a Christian school!
After a few of those exercises, we role played that the student was the boss. I told each one that he or she owned a store and had caught an employee stealing a $100.00 bill from the cash drawer. I asked each student, “What would you do?” All but one was ready to fire the thief.
I asked the students who were without mercy if they were sure, and one girl became adamant, saying, “I don’t care if it’s $100.00, $10.00 or even $1.00; if you steal from me, you are out.” I found this hilarious considering 10 minutes before she was ready to hack the time clock when it was in her favor.
But that wasn’t the point of my question. In the end, only one student had the best answer. This student said, “Before I fired an employee, I’d want to find out why he stole the money.”
The exercise continued, and after interviewing the employee, the students found out he had a sick mother. He had spent his last four paychecks on medical care for his mom, and he was stealing the $100.00 bill to buy groceries. Even with this new information, most of the students were still ready to fire the employee while others wanted him reassigned away from the cash drawer.
The role of the ethics exercise was to encourage the students to gather more information rather than make quick judgments based on limited facts.
I’m all for being decisive, making decisions quickly and avoiding wasted time by rehashing yesterday’s choices. However, I’ve seen too many info-marketers spend a lot of time and money creating the wrong info-marketing businesses. They believe that because they’ve done something successfully in a particular way that a huge percentage of their niche or industry will want to know about it. Or, because they are a plumber (or a doctor or a businessperson), they think they know what plumbers (or doctors or businesspeople) are like in general as well as what they want. Even worse are those who have been operating in a niche for a few years. Based on their experience with coaching clients, they make generalizations about what the average person in the niche wants.
Most often, these are false assumptions. Successful info-marketers will make the following practices ongoing habits: surveying, asking questions and intense listening. It’s easier to generalize, and since the work of listening is often a challenge and doesn’t usually produce immediate revenue, it’s easy to put it off. But surveying, asking questions and intense listening will make everything else you do more productive.
What do you think of the ethical dilemmas? Have you been surprised by your market, either good or bad? What came to your mind as you read this? Let me know your thoughts. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and post a comment. I read every comment and reply when appropriate.