Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Importance of Ethics: Engineering Ethics vs. Business Ethics

When I was CEO of Bigfoot Networks, I rarely encountered ethical 'problems' of any kind; I thought business ethics were a fairly useless thing to learn.  Now after being involved in many different start-ups and companies, I find that ethical issues can and do actually come up quite often... and I realize that I was addressing ethical issues at Bigfoot, even though I didn't realize it.

As a student of engineering and business, I've been exposed to two very different interpretations of ethics.  In Engineering, we talk about the ethics of "bad calculations", "building a bridge with errors", "cutting corners", or other things that can actually get people KILLED.  This kind of ethics always seemed like "real ethics" to me.  Business ethics seemed like a silly thing in compared to people dying.

I guess I'm starting to finally understand the importance of Business ethics.  I realize now, that I've always had good business ethics, and that's why I never had to deal with ethical problems.

At Bigfoot Networks, I was using very ethical business practices without realizing it:
  1. I never even considered buying stuff without some form of purchasing/payment contract or pre-paid:
    1. thus avoiding the ethical issue of "no contract"
  2. I always treated partners and customers as valuable customers and nothing else.
    1. thus avoiding potential conflicts of interest and complex issues like "customers as investors" or "partners determining our product direction".
  3. I avoided making promises I couldn't keep, or would not put in writing.
    1. Thus avoiding confusion and frustration.
  4. I always treated people with respect and courtesy.
    1. Thus avoiding employee issues and problems.
While I can't say specifically all the ethical issues I am facing today... I am glad that:
  • The issues are not "Engineering Ethical issues"!!!  e.g. they are not life or death issues, thank goodness.
  • I do know how to avoid business ethical issues, even though dealing with the problems themselves are a challenge.
  • My 7-Habits training and my years of running companies has prepared me to handle these issues, so I am confident I will do my very best to resolve them.
My advice for everyone: JUST AVOID THESE KINDS OF ISSUES!  It's way easier than dealing with them.

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