Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Perfect Show with Chris Macdonald – Reflecting on Business Ethics

It’s my pleasure to have Mr. Chris MacDonald, Professor of Philosophy & Business ethics at Saint Mary's University,Canada as a guest in this edition of Perfect Show. Chris MacDonald, Ph.D, teaches Philosophy, including business ethics, at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada, and is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at Duke University’s Kenan Institute for Ethics. He is a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Business Ethics. He has been named one of the “100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics”, two years in a row. He has been writing The Business Ethics Blog since November of 2005.

His work can be accessed at:
http://businessethicsblog.com and

The PERFECT show

Host - Prashant Sree - PS
Guest - Mr. Chris MacDonald - CM

PS: What are you passionate about in Life?
CM: I am passionate about Communication -- in particular, communicating new ideas that will help people understand their world better.

PS: That’s great. Could you share one such idea with the readers.
CM: Well, there are too many to name. That's what I do for a living -- pretty much all day, every day, either in writing or in the classroom. You can check my blogs to find out about my work.

PS: Certainly Chris. I went through your blog and found it very interesting. Your recent blog on the rescue mission of Chilean workers, and the business view point provided a new outlook. Now, what have you learnt in your life which you would like to share with others?
CM: One important thing I have learned is that if you surround yourself with the right people, very little else matters. That goes for both your professional life and your personal life. Choose your friends and colleagues carefully. They are more important to your happiness than anything else.

PS: Well said. If you are given a wish to change one thing in world, what would you change and why?
CM: I'd like to change people's level of willingness to consider other people's point of view. Too many people go through life thinking that anyone who disagrees with them must be either evil or an idiot. We're never going to have constructive conversations and find new solutions to hard social problems if we keep assuming the worst about each other.

PS: Who is your Favorite Fable/Mythological Hero and the reasons for the same?
CM: My favorite fable is the story of Stone Soup, because it's a story about people coming together, without even trying, in order to achieve a common goal. And also because it's about using an innovative (but really primitive!) social technology to focus people's efforts. (You can find the story here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone_soup )

PS: Thanks for the sharing the story. I am sure the readers will benefit from the reading. What would you like to evangelize in your life?
CM: I'm not much of an evangelist. I like to put ideas forward, and to try to show other people why I find those ideas attractive. But I'm not going to push my ideas beyond that. But if there's one idea that I want to put forward vigorously, it's that we are far better off without superstition of any kind.

PS: What is your charm, which you feel attracts people to you.
CM: I'm not sure how much charm I've got, but what I have lies in the fact that people tend to find me reasonable. They don't always think that I'm right, but they tend to think I'm a reasonable person who really will take their point of view seriously, even if I don't agree with them!

PS: That seems reasonable explanation :). So what is your Thumb Rule for Life ?
CM: My only Rule of Thumb is that life gets better the more *little* rules of thumb I gather along the way!

PS: Could you share who have been your role models in your life.
CM: Professionally, I've had many role models. Among the most important was my PhD supervisor, Dr. Peter Danielson. From him I learned both how to ask uncomfortable questions. But I also learned, from his example, the beauty of changing your mind, even on something you believe strongly, when you find evidence that a new point of view is better.

PS: That’s a wonderful insight about looking at things from a new viewpoint. Which books have had a major influence on you and brief idea about the book.
CM: I've been influenced by a lot of books, but I'll point to 3 that come to mind, in no particular order. First is Henry Hansmann's book, The Ownership of Enterprise. It's a difficult book, but fascinating. It looks at why so many large modern businesses are structured as corporations, owned by shareholders. Too many people think of corporations as mysterious, and as existing for no particular reason. Hansmann helped me see otherwise. Another great book is Thinking Like an Engineer, by Michael Davis. Davis is a first-rate philosopher, and though his book is mainly about the engineering profession, it's really about the moral foundations of all professions. And finally, I'll mention a book called Getting Away With Murder, by a Canadian law professor named David Paciocco. It's a book that does a wonderful job of explaining the origins and purpose of many of the so-called "technicalities" of the Western legal system. It helps people see that while many technicalities are frustrating, most of them have a purpose, and they're part of a larger system that generally works quite well.

PS: Back to your playfield, to what extent does it really hold true in today’s corporate world. How can one bring upon a change in this view?
CM: I've argued on my blog that, despite the headlines, today's standard of business ethics is actually very high. Business corporations in 2010 are more open, more transparent, less sexist, less racist, and just generally better-behaved than at any other time in history. Of course, bad things still happen, and we can still do better. But we need to look beyond the scandals that make the headlines and realize that most of the time, most businesses do the right thing.

PS: Suppose a person who goes about doing things the right way confront others who don’t hold the same view. As a reason, he is looked upon as an outsider. How can this guy fight back, to uphold his principles against the majority viewpoint.
CM: Well, it depends on how large that other group is. If he's alone in his whole society, he may need to reconsider just how right he thinks he is. If the opposing group is just his own small work group, for example, he needs to be able to point to the values held by the larger society. The first step, of course, is simply to speak up. That can be difficult, but sometimes it can be done simply by asking a few hard questions out loud.

PS: Now deviating a little bit from business ethics and moving on to philosophy, the million dollar question, do we have a destiny. Or do we create our own destiny.
CM: We create our own destiny, largely. We all face limits and challenges based on our circumstances, where we are born, etc. But beyond that, mostly it's up to us.

PS: What particular philosophy do you believe in?
CM: I don't have a philosophy, really. In all things, I try to find the point of view that is supported by the best reasons -- whether the question is ethical, epistemological, or metaphysical.

PS: A quick question before we wrap up. Which one is better, following your heart, or following your mind? :)
CM: It depends on the situation. But when it comes to ethical issues, both play an important role. Our hearts can tell us something is important, and can motivate us. But since your heart and mine can lead us in different directions, we then need to use our minds to help us sort through the conflict constructively.

PS: Well Chris, those were the ‘Perfect’ questions. It was a pleasant experience to have you in the Show and know about your insights. I am sure that the audience would have benefited hugely from this edition as well. I thank you for taking your time and sharing your learning's.
CM: It’s my pleasure too, Prashant.

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