Part one: How can we be Ethical…
If we don’t know what it means?
If you ask a hundred people what ethical means, you’ll get a hundred answers.
This is one of the fundamental problems of trying to create ethical businesses, ethical economies, ethical systems and ethical lives. We don’t actually know what ethical means: we think we do, but we don’t. If you ask, you’ll get examples of what people think of as ethical; green this, sustainable that. You’ll get examples of morality – indeed, ethics and morality are frequently conflated – and the dictionary definitions include phrases such as ‘moral behaviour’ and ‘right actions’, yet these change, from place to pace, time to time, instance to instance. When it comes to ethics, we need to set a foundation of truth and common understanding, for without it, our attempts are doomed to underperform, invert, and fail. Let’s come to an agreement from the outset.
Ethical is a scale, a spectrum, and should be considered a dynamic slider bar of impact.
How ethical something is changes, constantly, as individuals we are all ethical to some degree. There is only more or less, higher or lower on the infinite scale.
A scale of what? Life Enhancement.
These two words can be used to explore and apply ethics. How life enhancing is something? How can we make this product or service or job more life enhancing? Using Life Enhancement as a definition we can begin to usefully consider ethics. Is a diamond ring life enhancing? The person wearing it thinks so. It makes them feel successful, wealthy, powerful, loved, attractive. And yet the gold was taken from a mine, a thousand trees were killed in the creation of it, and mercury poisoned the river. The diamond was the result of bonded labour, and refracts the blood of innocents when held to the light. Is that diamond ring life enhancing?
When we talk about life, we’re not just talking about the individual life of the end user, or even exclusively the life of humans.
In ethics, Life is All Life.
And it’s not just about how it makes people feel. Ask an alcoholic if they would like a drink, or a heroin addict if they would like a hit. They do, and they thrive on the experience. Yet this is not life enhancing for them, far from it. It is life degrading. As is our addiction to consumption, to environmental exploitation, and to the prioritisation of material and financial acquisition.
Can we use this definition of ethics in business to drive competitive advantage and commercial success? Let’s find out.The principal is this: If you embed an Ethical Core within an organisation, then focus on that core, fuelling it into expansion, it will permeate the entire enterprise, transforming it. The core will then radiate beyond the organisation to become an attractive force for customers, talented people, publicity, and economic growth.
Strategically, if one intentionally designs a business to have a maximum life enhancing impact it will drive expansion whilst maintaining stability and sustainable growth.
If the focus is on the Ethical Core, refining it and expanding it, every other thing will automatically happen to create success. Imagine a pie chart. All the departments are slices. The Ethical Core is not a slice, it’s the centre, so when it grows outwards, it influences and transforms every department. Internally, this will immediately impact employee wellbeing, culture and productivity. This is before the core has even reached the external impacts of the organisation.