Is Honesty Really the Best Policy?

The boss was angry.  She just had an argument with a board member.  She then told me not to sign documents the board member forwarded me for my signature.  But I had already signed the documents.  When she asked if I did, I said, “no.”  Meanwhile, I put away the documents in my desk drawer. 

My boss would have gone ballistic if I told her I had signed the documents.  Rather than let her high blood pressure go up, I decided to mislead her. 

Did I lie? 

Roman Catholic doctrine dictates it is “never allowable to tell a lie, not even to save human life.”  Lying is evil and because nothing good ever comes from evil, “we are never allowed to tell a lie.” 

On the other hand: 

However, we are also under an obligation to keep secrets faithfully, and sometimes the easiest way of fulfilling that duty is to say what is false, or to tell a lie. Writers of all creeds and of none, both ancient and modern, have frankly accepted this position. They admit the doctrine of the lie of necessity, and maintain that when there is a conflict between justice and veracity it is justice that should prevail. The common Catholic teaching has formulated the theory of mental reservation as a means by which the claims of both justice and veracity can be satisfied.

Slater, T. (1911). Mental Reservation. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved November 25, 2021 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10195b.htm

We can lie but only if it’s absolutely necessary such that it is for good (“justice”).

The Catholic Church calls it mental reservation.  My Jesuit English teacher from high school called it equivocation.  The more common term is the white lie

An example is a homeowner who gave sanctuary to Jews in his house as Nazi soldiers during the Second World War searched for them to ship to concentration camps.  When the Nazi soldiers asked the homeowner if there were Jews in the church, he said “there was no one here.”  The Nazis left. 

The homeowner did not lie.  He said the Jews were not here which to him meant they were not available.  But the Nazi soldiers took it to mean the Jews were not there physically so they left.  The priest deliberately misled the soldiers.  But he did it to save the lives of the Jews and that was enough to justify the white lie.  The homeowner did not sin. 

But in my case of not telling the boss I signed the documents; the Catholic Church would say I had no compelling justification to equivocate.  No life was at stake, only my career.  My boss would have just gotten madder and I would have had to suffer a long scolding. 

The Catholic Church would say I lied when I shouldn’t have.

In this complicated world we live in, people lie a lot.  The people who lie would say it’s for good reasons.  We don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings.  We don’t want to aggravate a crisis.  We want to avoid conflict. 

When my boss cooled off and finally said I could sign the documents, I then took them out of the drawer and sent them, already with my signature, on their way. 

Since the issue was resolved, I did not bother to tell the boss what happened. I rationalised that it would just be for naught if the boss found out, got mad again, and subjected me to a scolding.  The case was closed, that was it. 

The Catholic Church would warn that my behaviour can lead to abuse.  It was already lying, first of all.  Doing it as a habit and excusing it as mental reservation, equivocation, or white lying, and saying it’s for good reason may result in more long-term harm than any perceived benefit whatsoever.

It’s like the motorist who is driving home in the middle of the night and decides to run a red traffic light.  There’s no other vehicle around at the intersection so the motorist rationalises that there’s no harm to disobey the red light. 

Over time, however, the motorist does this more often.  He runs red lights every night and even during the day whenever he sees no other vehicle around.  It becomes a habit that one day, he doesn’t notice an oncoming vehicle and he gets into an accident.  

To many of us, honesty is not always a best policy.  Being too honest can get us into trouble, so we bend the truth.  We spin our speeches, avoid addressing questions, or just plain lie.  We see many people doing it (e.g. politicians, executives) so we believe we can do it too. 

It is true that religions like the Catholic Church give us some leeway to lie.  But it’s more of the exception than the rule.  We should realise the more we bend the truth, the more likely it will break.  And more harm will come than good as a result. 

Honesty is still a best policy, exceptions notwithstanding.

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A Feasibility Study Starts with Defining the Problem

An employee has an idea and brings it to her boss.  The boss says “good idea!” and forms a team to do a feasibility study.  The team determines the idea feasible for a new product. 

The boss authorises the introduction of the new product.  The product, however, does not sell.  Customers think it’s too expensive.  The boss kills the product.  The employee who suggested the idea is fired.  He gets rich when he sells the product on his own. 

There is a fine line between an idea and a solution.  Both are not the same.  An idea is a thought that develops into a concept.  A solution is an answer to a problem or it’s a process or method to deal with a problem. 

More often than not, we mix up the two and we do a feasibility study without really thinking through whether what we’re studying the feasibility of is an idea or a solution. 

Why is it important to know if we’re studying an idea or a solution?  Because the best approach to doing a feasibility study is knowing the purpose of what we’re studying in the first place. 

If we’re studying the solution, we’d need to make sure what the problem the solution is answering. 

If we’re studying an idea, we’d need to know what we’re developing from the idea.  What is the idea’s purpose?

Feasibility studies typically consist of the following steps:

If somebody is going to say I just laid out a problem-solving approach, I will say yes, I did. 

A problem-solving approach is the core of a feasibility study.  If it isn’t, it would make no sense to do a feasibility study.  How can one judge the feasibility of something if one doesn’t know the purpose of that something or what problem it is solving? 

In starting a feasibility study, it pays to know what the purpose is.  Hence, the first step is problem definition

A problem is not necessarily a disruption, a roadblock, or a painful symptom.  A problem in the context of a feasibility study is what we’re trying to achieve.  It typically comes in the form of a question that starts with “what” or “how.”  And it should be as specific as possible.

What can we do to lower the cost of electricity in our factory?

How can we reduce our pending orders faster? 

Please note that defining the problem is not as straightforward as it looks.  Just asking a question does not mean we have defined the problem. 

Defining the problem requires diagnosis.  Diagnosis requires data and analysis. 

A doctor does not simply define a patient’s problem just by the patient’s symptoms.  The doctor would diagnose, that is, do tests, study the results, establish the cause, and prescribe a procedure to cure. 

Likewise, with problem definition.  We need to gather data, analyse the data, organise the evidence, identify root causes, and conclude what the problem is. 

Inventories are high but we run out of stock every end of the quarter.  We import in large lot sizes.  Our stocks spike when the imports arrive.  Arrivals of imported merchandise come in at the same time.  Demand depletes our stock but some items run out faster than others.  We order when we notice items nearing out-of-stock.  It takes six (6) weeks for merchandise to arrive from the time we order and prepare the import documents. 

What inventory policy should we develop for our imported merchandise? 

We would also need to listen to what stakeholders are saying, especially what their ideas are.  It may sharpen the problem definition further. 

Our purchasing staff suggests we break up the imports into smaller quantities but that would mean foregoing bulk discounts from vendors.  They suggest negotiating with vendors such that we can order in bulk but have the order shipped in staggered smaller quantities. 

What inventory and purchasing policy should we develop for our imported merchandise? 

Defining the problem is a significant step in the feasibility study.  Once we know the problem clearly and specifically, it can be downhill from there in finding the solution or developing an idea. 

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