Lessons from Locksmiths and the 99%

Just finished reading Dan Ariely’s new book The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. What a great title for a book on cheating & lying.

Dishonesty is pretty easy to understand, isn’t it? We know when someone is being honest or not, and we ourselves are of course never dishonest? Or so we think.

Well your preexisting ideas about honesty are about to be turned upside down.
Ariely has an amazing storytelling ability that will leaving you scratching your head and saying – I hadn’t thought of that.

Conventional economics theory has it that people will be dishonest when there is low risk and it serves their economic interest. But it’s actually much much more complex.

He tells one story of how a cab driver lies about the fare in favor of himself, while at other times in favor of the passenger! Or for example the story of how soda & some cash are left in an office refrigerator. The sodas disappear, but the money remains.

Perhaps the most interesting discussion is that of law firms & billable hours. There is of course the question of what counts as a billable hour, and where the rounding happens. But what’s more accountability can and does become a measure of how much work gets done. So those who round down because they are more honest, may be perceived to be doing the least amount of work! Conflicts of interest indeed.

[quote]Sometimes conflicts of interest cloud our judgement and steer our thinking. In professions where we make recommendations and then also provide service based on those recommendations those may be difficult to eliminate. Consumers or businesses should make every effort to find service providers with the least conflicts.[/quote]

We’re a service provider ourselves. Wondering how we work? Take a peek at our Anatomy of a Performance Review to get insight.

Interestingly, based on the soda story among others, it turns out people are less likely to be dishonest when cash is involved. So he wonders, as we become more of a cashless society, it may be that our moral compass slips? Still hot on the heels of our housing financial crisis it does make one wonder.

Perhaps my favorite anecdote was one where told the story of locking himself out of his apartment. After very quickly picking the lock he was surprised. The locksmith explained that doors are very easy to pick and open for a professional. You wouldn’t need locks for the 1% of people who are honest. Nor would you need them for the 1% of people who are thieves, they can pick your lock easily. Locks are for the 98% of people who are mostly honest, but might be tempted to be dishonest if the conditions are right. What he was also saying was that 99% of people are not completely perfectly honest.

Great read and excellent food for thought.

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