Making ethics easier to do


Let’s start by covering some familiar territory.

Organisations are ethics washing

“There is no correlation between the cultural values a company emphasizes in its published statements and how well the company lives up to those values in the eyes of employees.”

Donald Sull - MIT Sloan School of Management and cofounder of CultureX
So that the realities of this phenomenon are clear, here are three examples:
  1. ANZ Bank (one of Australia’s Big 4) often talks about environmental sustainability. But, they’re also the ‘friendliest funder’ of the fossil fuels industry
  2. Microsoft is pushing hard on things like Self Sovereign Identity and Personal Data Agency. But, they also sell surveillance technologies and have a variety of business functions that could easily be considered ‘surveillance capitalism’
  3. The Heart Foundation is trying to promote a heart healthy lifestyle. This is awesome. Heart disease kills more people than any other lifestyle disease today. But, rather problematically, they still have processed red meats in some of their recipes (high in saturated fat, dietary cholesterol and, among other things, considered a human carcinogen)  

For more on this specific issue –  something we frame as the ethical intent to action gap – read this.

This gap is a big issue. It’s amplifying distrust. Distrust is crippling society.

Inaction is not an option. The ethical intent to action gap needs to be closed.

Let’s talk about how. 

We make better, more ethical decisions easier to make

Right now, the ethical intent to action gap is largely the result of ability. It’s not a motivation thing.

Let me explain using the Fogg Behavior Model.

The problem with a lot of ‘change models’ (not this one) is that they kinda rely on motivation. Motivation fluctuates. It’s an unreliable change ally.

The research BJ Fogg and many others have conducted seems to suggest that enhancing ability is a better way to make change happen.

In simple terms – when ‘designing’ behaviour – focus on making the target behaviour super easy to do. And, don’t go big (because you’ll likely go home). Start small. Gain momentum. Let compounding do it’s thing.

Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg’s book, is a brilliant resource to learn the how.

The thing that a lot of people miss is that ethics is about behaviour. Ethics is process driven. It’s the decision making process we execute in our attempt to make the best possible choice.

Ethics isn’t zero sum. It’s complex, nuanced, ambiguous and contextual. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Each and every one of us that directly influences products and services can get better at this process. But we can’t do it alone. We need support.

Starting small and simple

I’ve written about this before and I’m going to write about this again. Start by changing the way you make decisions.

This can include formal decisions such as experiments to conduct, features to prioritise etc. But it can also include the dynamic, more heuristic decisions we make on a daily basis.

For the more formal decisions, start by:

  1. Formally documenting additional decision making criteria (criteria that explicitly considers the ethical implications of your actions)
  2. Embedding these into your formal workflows, processes and tools
  3. Actively engage a broader group of stakeholders in the decision making process. Oatly really screwed up on this recently. Learn from them. Don’t make decisions without representation from the people and groups your decision impact

For more on how we do this, check out our public Key Decision Log.

The reason this is relatively easy is because you are doing what you already do. You are quite literally (as the simplest implementation) just adding additional criteria to ensure you are more ethically explicit and intentional.

For the more heuristic decisions, here’s what to do:

  1. Get out a piece of paper
  2. Draw a likert scale on it (a long horizontal line. 1 on the far left, 7 on the far right. 1 represents socially unacceptable and 7 represents socially preferable, your north star)
  3. Draw a bold dot to represent the social preferability (defined as the overwhelming support key stakeholders have for the intent and likely outcomes of a decision) score you would give the decision 

1 is horrific, 7 is brilliant. Most of the time you’ll be operating between 2 and 6. I trust this goes without saying, but please optimise for the far right.

Why am suggesting this specific approach?

  1. It forces you to get out of your role as a leader and/or practitioner. This score is being hypothetically given from the perspective of a person your decision will directly impact
  2. It makes the process a little more intentional. There’s a reason paper sketching and note taking is more effective. Use that to your advantage here. This will slow you down just enough. A pause is a powerful thing… And
  3. This is some form of documentation (a key component of a more mature ethics framework). Once your approach to ethical decision making matures, this can become a more embedded process (within your ‘digital’ systems)

This very basic process gets you started and helps you make progress towards a more ‘whole of organisation’ approach.

And I’m not just saying this. We are practicing this approach and more. We’re working towards a truly participatory governance model. Part of this is an inclusive key decision making process. It’s why we’ve made our Key Decision Log public.

It might be important for me to note that, although pre-launch a lot of our decisions had to be made by us (as co-founders), we’re already adding that participatory layer. This means that instead of just making decisions and then openly communicating them, we actively propose a decision before making it (where Oatly went wrong). We make decisions with our key stakeholders, not for them.

If you want more, join the #MakingBetterTogether movement

The purpose of our platform is to help close the ethical intent to action gap. It’s about making ethical actions easier to do. It’s about making tech a genuine force for good.

And we’re committed to an open and coordinated approach. This isn’t about centralised systems that ‘control’ this stuff. this isn’t a winner platform takes all thing. This is about empowering a movement. Anything short of this and  our vision will never become a reality. No pressure 😜

If you want to start diving deeper, connect with Nate and Mat on LinkedIn. Start engaging in the discussions we’re having.

Alternatively, just join the beta. There’s no better approach than to learn by doing.

Big ❤️ as always.