There are fifty people sitting on a patio. There is one person happily smoking.
When forty-nine people are subjected to one person’s decision to smoke, whose responsibility are the side effects? We know unequivocally that smoking kills and second-hand smoke does too. But that doesn’t make the smoker stop to think, even for a second.
When we translate the principle of an individual’s selfish behavior across business and society we see people and organizations doing the same thing at a larger scale. It’s no wonder we find ourselves facing many of the problems we face today. After all, most organizations are simply groups of individuals acting selfishly to protect their own short-term interests.
When a beverage company knowingly produces a beverage that’s poisoning you because you’ve created a habit around it… When a power company actively ignores the chemicals rising out of its smoke stacks… When an apparel company looks the other way as its workers suffer through another day of noxious fumes and lack of a living wage…
At the end of the day, is meeting the earnings projections really worth the fallout? As we’re selfishly earning the dividends, we’re also passing the buck on the side effects to our children and grandchildren, resting easy knowing we won’t be the ones who have to fix the problem.
Is this any different than being the selfish person subjecting everyone around us to our cigarette smoke?
How long before someone stands up and asks the person to put the cigarette out? How long before enough people stand up that we stop making the cigarettes to begin with?