The Five Most Dangerous Words in Business
You might think that the five most dangerous words in business would be associated with a corporate takeover or a competitor’s challenge. In fact, this quote, from the insurance sector’s most famous chief executive, refers to an excuse. Berkshire Hathaway’s CEO, Warren Buffet, thinks the five most dangerous words in business are “everyone else is doing it”.
The financial turmoil of the past six years provides ample evidence for Buffet being spot on. The best that many banking executives could come up with as an explanation for their misconduct was that “everyone else was doing it”.
It’s one of a collection of terms often referred to as neutralisations. People use them to reshape their decision so as to make it appear not so bad as it really was. Remember that most misconduct in corporate settings is not done by bad people doing bad things, but by good people making bad choices. Those good people use neutralisations in an attempt to convince themselves, and others, that they weren’t acting so badly after all.
So what other neutralisations might you come across? Here are some more to complete the set:
Firstly, there’s the ‘denial of responsibility’. This often comes out in the phrase “I had no choice! There was no other option.”
Then there’s the ‘denial of loss’. You hear this expressed as :“No one will really be worse off.” And it’s a short step from denying any loss to questioning those loosing out: “Who are these people anyway?”
Thirdly, there’s the ‘appeal to other loyalties’. Listen out for comments like: “The company needs this from me” and “I have a family to support”.
And then there’s the ‘claim to entitlement’. The classic remark here is: “I’ve worked hard on this deal; I deserve to win it”
Finally, one variation of “everyone else is doing it’ reads something like this: “If I don’t do it, then someone else will in my place”.