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Think about more than just the bottom line

A recent study by LeHigh, Rutgers and DePaul University placed business school graduate students in a situation where they were given a certain amount of play money. The condition was that they were to share information about this “cash” by email and by handwritten letter with a complete stranger.

The students were tasked with sharing the cash with the stranger via these two mediums and the disclosure of exactly how much money was to be split was entirely up to the student. The study found that the majority of the graduate students chose to lie about the total amount of cash, and were thus able to keep a larger portion of the play money than their counterpart. (As it turns out, the study concluded that it was more enticing for the students to lie by email than by handwritten letter).

Unfortunately, the results of this study will not come as a surprise to many people. Too often, business schools have a habit of fostering a ‘me-first’ culture. If a student in that business class were to say, raise their hand and proclaim they had told the truth about the total amount and had split the money evenly, they’d likely be ridiculed for it. The 'winner' would be the person who came away with the most money.

But is this what it all ought to really be about? No doubt it is important to teach aspiring business men and women to look for the value propositions out of every potential transaction, but when does that necessitate lying – especially for a few (fake) dollars?

The effects of this me-first culture are plainly evident today in the business world. Today we can see the global economic impacts of greed when companies, executives, management and staff don’t consider the needs of the person on the other end of that “email” (i.e. the customer) and focus only on making the sale and on improving the company's bottom line.

The study didn’t specify that the stranger was in fact a customer, but why should that matter? When you’re entering into a business arrangement, a mindset of “I’m getting what’s mine” may help you a little bit now, but rest assured it will certainly hurt you much more severely in the long run.

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