The fallout of from an exiting Goldman Sachs manager’s bitter and vengeful resignation op-ed in the New York Times created a firestorm in the business world. But what does it say about human nature as a whole? Are we, as a society, filled with liars, cheats, and crooks, running unrestrained or are we just becoming a little bit too altruistic as critics of Greg Smith’s departure grenade say?
Note two studies from Harvard Business School and Duke University showing that “creativity fuels dishonesty and that dishonest behavior triggers creativity”. At the same time, the number of articles about creativity- in business, parenting, virtually everything requiring thought- is rising exponentially, ostensibly because creativity is revered and rewarded, therefore we all want and even need to be more creative. One of the more relevant findings in this case:
Dishonest behavior is, after all, also influenced by environment. “Research shows that when you teach people to do cost-benefit analysis … they’ll give more weight to their own self-interest…”
In other words, Greg Smith is right but then all successful businesses, not just Goldman Sachs, are guilty. Is that a business, societal, cultural, political or legal problem? The answer, of course, is all of them. The question in the Goldman Sachs case is whether anyone there broke the law. The company has been shown to have violated several laws recently. Is Smith’s invective a very strong hint to the S.E.C. that something is even more rotten in the state of Blankfein or just sour grapes? Coverups require a lot of creative thinking.
Society justifiably equates creativity with something good: actors, athletes, artists are all considered “creative” people (except Tom Cruise). Managers and employees are often honored and given bonuses for “thinking outside the box”, “blue-skying” and other metaphors. But criminals, adulterers, and especially children are also extremely good at lying to cover their misdeeds. That requires imagination i.e. creativity.
Perhaps the answer lies in the old and terribly overused phrase “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” At what point does the responsibility for your misfortunes shift from other people to you? Aren’t we all using our creativity and imaginations every day to keep our jobs, teach our children, avoid car wrecks, and getting a good deal on a new lawn mower? We know the other guy is.