how corporate corruption can cripple buddhadharma…

I was very struck by an article in the Guardian newspaper this morning (see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/may/01/rupert-murdoch-dangerous-blindness). It fits in very well with what I and my colleagues have been experiencing over the last few months, and also with what an awful lot of people I know have also been experiencing over many years:

We are all susceptible to wilful blindness, ignoring truths about ourselves, each other and the way we live, that threaten our sense of identity and security. If phone hacking were endemic in News Corporation, what did that say about its founder? Murdoch wasn’t the first to believe himself incapable of running a corrupt organisation; to his dying day, Enron‘s chief executive did likewise.

We all succumb to the human tendency to prefer people like ourselves, to readily accept information that confirms our sense of ourselves, and discredit data that doesn’t fit our dominant ideologies. And when people are tired, busy or distracted, it’s clear the human mind falls back on stereotypes and received wisdom.

But this human flaw takes on vastly different proportions inside organisations and the people who lead them. The human instinct to obey authority – so robustly demonstrated in the 1960s by the social psychologist Stanley Milgram – means that most people, asked to commit unethical acts, do so blindly. Research into conformity shows that most of us would rather give a wrong answer than jeopardise belonging to a group. News Corp’s corporate culture contributed to Murdoch’s blindness. And perhaps the greatest blinder of all is power. People in positions of great power inhabit a bubble. This can acquire a physical reality: Murdoch doesn’t travel on public planes or inhabit public spaces – and, from his parliamentary and Leveson performances, clearly isn’t accustomed to unprompted questions or unexpected challenges.

In this cocoon a sense of both physical and intellectual safety develops that is, of course, immensely dangerous. These people are surrounded by others who wish to please them and who hope, themselves, to acquire power by doing so. To advance their own case, they readily proffer the best news while minimising, trivialising or normalising provocative questions. The powerful corporate culture that characterised News Corp was fundamentally one of compliance. Many employees I know who worked there described it as a cult. Just as in totalitarian states, no censor is needed because everyone has internalised what must not be said.

But did Murdoch choose to be blind? He chose to surround himself with loyalists, not critics – with executives who were politically and financially dependent – while losing the more robust stalwarts who could stand up to him. Murdoch designed his corporate governance to make any kind of challenge difficult and ineffectual – while the shareholders themselves chose to ignore the danger of this, blinded themselves by high returns.

And Murdoch won’t be the first parent to be blinded by love. But in choosing to hand control over a substantial part of his empire to his son, he guaranteed that neither critical thinking nor unfettered debate would characterise the management of his key assets.

If you removed the words ‘Rupert Murdoch’ and ‘Enron’s chief executive’ with the bureaucratic chiefs of a tribe known as the Enkaytees, who live in the ‘bubble’ that is the ‘corporate culture’ of the city of Enkiti, then the above article is pretty much still spot on, in my ever so very humble opinion.

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