Sunday, November 1, 2020

Review of Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What's Right and What to Do about It by Max H. Bazerman, Ann E. Tenbrunsel

This review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:

Elaborate Description

The you that should and the you that wants are vastly different. The should you is calculating your decisions before their arrival, but when it is decision time, the want you takes over. The decisions made under the control of your’ want self, end up being subpar to the decisions that you wanted to make. Nevertheless, you rationalize the decision as one that was right. The core of this book is that difference, the difference between the decisions well planned out in advance and the actual decisions made while not recognizing the difference post hoc.

Ethical decisions come after deep thought, while the more unethical ones come spontaneously when the decision needs to be made. It’s a problem when we believe we are more ethical than we are, as it prevents us from becoming as ethical we actually want to be, but the bigger problem is that other people seem to be more unethical. When we make a decision, whether ethical or not, we consider it to be more ethical than when someone else makes the same exact decision.

The ethicality of a decision tends to be determined by the outcome. No matter how unethical a decision may be ad hoc, if the outcome is favorable to the organization or individual, the decision becomes seen as more ethical. Those unethical decisions make similar future decisions easier to make, because they now have a precedent. The unethical decisions than culminate in an organization culture which not only prevents the better and more ethical decisions from being made as the ethical decisions will echo a taboo likeness, but also fosters an environment detrimental to organizational goals.

Segmenting decisions and indirect causes are some of the ways that everyone misses an ethical decision for what it is. By thinking of an ethical decision as a different sort, such as a management or engineering decision, prevents the decision from being made in a holistic manner. Categorizing the decisions prevents organizations from understanding the future impact of that decision. When a decision is an unethical, to avoid being blamed for being unethical, organization create an indirect way of making the decision such as by handing the decision to anther firm. Categorizing and indirect causes can be seen as ethical decisions by placing all the available options next to each other.

Most, if not all organizations, want to be ethical and be seen as ethical. They create formal claims to their ethics and codes of conduct. Formal claims, unfortunately, are superseded by the informal organization structure. Organization culture such as the stories that are being told or not create an environment which can be contrary to the external claims of ethics. To correct the unethical behavior, goal setting seems to have the effect of making the unethical behavior worse. Setting goals focuses the employees on those goals, which prevents them seeing non-goal decisions as being ethical decisions, creating an unintended incentive to make unethical decisions.

There are three problems in this book: lack of jargon, view on ethics, and tyranny of the majority. There is a lot of research from other fields in this book, but only behavioral ethics jargon is provided. The lack of jargon makes it difficult to communicate many of the ideas, and make it much harder to foster future use of the ideas. Simply having a few key terms, jargon, as a footnote to the particular research under discussion would have helped a lot.

For better or worse the authors have a more individualistic representation of ethics. Ethics are on an imaginary scale in this book, where everyone compares their ethics to other and everyone thinks they are more ethical than the average. This relative ethics creates a problem that everyone will be either ethical or unethical in comparison to someone else, for instance, among a few saints, one will be the unethical saint. Even though everyone can be extremely ethical, or in absolute terms ethical enough for the decisions to be made, everyone becomes unethical by comparison. This is from an individualist approach to ethics, while ethics is determined by the society where different societies will view each other as atrocious and unethical due to different ethical codes of conduct. As the book is more about the individual expected and made ethical decisions, the individualistic approach is not much a problem, but neither is it referenced.

The final problem with the book is the ethics view that the majority is right. Even though the authors claim not to impose their ethical views on the reader, they implicitly do. The examples and explanation provide regard the majority as being right. The problem with this is that a majority can create tyranny such as genocide and unfavorable laws to the minority. The authors pick topics which are pressing and the majority can be right about them, but the resolution to each of problems created by the minority, is to take away their freedom of speech. The authors may target the examples where a majority is more likely to be right as counterbalance. The examples exhibit tyranny of the minority, for the minority impacted by a change will be the more fervent defenders of the status quo, nevertheless the handling of these issues should have been more ethical to complexity of the issues.

This is an eloquent book that utilizes behavioral economics, game theory, psychology, and ethics. Incentives which create cultures that produce ethical or unethical decisions are ubiquitous. This book can help organizations produce a culture more suitable to reaching their actual goals and help individuals understand how they can become the person they imagine themselves to be.

Book Details

Edition ISBN:  9780691147505
Pages to read:  174
Publication:     2011
Format:            Hardback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability     5
Content           4
Overall           4