“Scripts”, Habits, and Other Potential Ethics Killers

I just finished drafting something for a future Weekly Ethics Thought on the importance of stepping away from ‘business as usual’ to make sure we aren’t operating out of habit instead of really thinking through whether we – and our companies – are actually doing the right thing. My main point in the piece is that when we start seeing everything in black and white, we’ve probably lost our needed ability to see the grey so often present in tough ethical decisions. (In fact, I suppose one could argue that ethical decisions are only tough when they are grey!)

No sooner had I finished the draft than I stumbled onto this article by Dennis Moberg who makes the great point that we all have a tendency to do our jobs by long-practiced “scripts” and talks about how those scripts can get us into ethical trouble, not to speak of why they’re also lousy for business. Scripts, as defined by him are, it seems to me, essentially another way of talking about working by habit alone. In that mode we simply work by rote and don’t attend to information that, should we have paid attention, would have directed us to embark on a better course of action. Interesting article, I thought.

A parallel phenomenon not addressed in the Moberg piece has to do with the ways in which our beliefs guide our cognition. It is an awful-but-normal fact of human psychology that we systematically bend our perceptions to fit into our system of beliefs; we either don’t see contradictory information or mutate it somehow so that it will be consonant with what we believe to be true. This can be terrible for everything from business to politics to relationships, and of course, to ethics. Until we make the time to step back from our day-to-day decision-making process and really examine our beliefs and guiding values, there is no way we can even begin to discern where our beliefs and “scripts” may be getting us into trouble, no matter how virtuous we believe ourselves and our businesses to be.

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