Is Incompetence a Form of Dishonesty? (NSQ Ep. 6)
Also: should we all have personal mission statements?
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Relevant References & Research
Question #1: Is it immoral to slack off at work when others are depending on you to do a good job?
- Stephen says that he values workers who “really, really, really hate to screw up.” Angela points out to Stephen that sustained rumination over errors is often unhealthy. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, this level of frustration and guilt over small mistakes is often a symptom of an anxiety disorder, or possibly clinical depression. Thankfully, both of these illnesses are easily treated with psychotherapy and/or medication.
- Angela says, “When you look at research on honesty and dishonesty, people have almost an infinite number of ways to rationalize what they did.” Behavioral economist Dan Ariely is famous for his research in this area. If you’re interested to learn more, we recommend his book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty.
- Stephen and Angela spend much of this conversation discussing the concept of “moral licensing.” Stephen references a relevant experiment by economist John List. To hear List discuss the experiment, and to learn more about moral licensing in general, take a listen to Freakonomics Radio Ep. 335, “Does Doing Good Give You License to Be Bad?”
- The meta-analysis that Angela mentions on moral licensing is a 2015 study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Also, Stephen alludes to moral licensing studies about racial attitudes; three relevant studies include: “Moral Credentials and the Expression of Prejudice” (2001), “Endorsing Obama Licenses Favoring Whites” (2009), and “The Long, Steep Path to Equality: Progressing on Egalitarian Goals” (2011).
- Angela references behavioral scientist Max Bazerman’s assertion that “better” is a better goal than “perfect.” To learn more about this theory, check out Bazerman’s book, Better, Not Perfect: A Realist’s Guide to Maximum Sustainable Goodness.
- Angela discusses the work of psychologist John Sabini, who researched how people change their inner narratives, and often engage in self-deception, in order to justify bad behavior.
- Angela summarizes the famous “wallet test,” a 2019 experiment on civic honesty across the globe. Like Angela says, the findings revealed a high-level of civic honesty across all nations.
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Question #2: How valuable is it to have a personal mission statement?
- Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang was indeed a Cutco knife salesman. Yang shares this story in Freakonomics Radio Ep. 362, “Why Is This Man Running for President?”
- Stephen and Angela discuss Google’s unofficial motto, “don’t be evil.” The phrase was written into the company’s corporate code of conduct in 2000. In 2015, when Google reorganized under Alphabet, their motto changed from “don’t be evil” to “do the right thing.” However, “don’t be evil” remained a part of their code of conduct until 2018, when all references to the motto were removed, except for one — the very last line.
- Stephen says that he and Steven Levitt examine the problem with relying on a “moral compass” in their 2014 book Think Like a Freak — the section he’s referring to is part of chapter two, “The Three Hardest Words in the English Language.”
Angela discusses the difference between “approach motivation” and “avoidance motivation,” and she says that Stephen’s top-level goal — “every day, try to suck a little bit less” — is a form of avoidance motivation. To learn more about these differing perspectives on achievement, check out the research of psychologist Andrew Elliot.