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Home > Blog > The Right Litmus Test?
Out of Our Minds
Monday, April 19, 2004 12:59 PM
The Right Litmus Test?
Kevin Salwen on Making a Difference

As readers of this site have noticed, David Weinberger and I have been debating in the past week the issues of when companies can be cited as a 'good' corporation and when should they be trusted to trumpet their achievements with flashy color brochures and the like. David is big into the 'verify' aspect of 'trust but verify.' I, on the other hand, want to see effort at doing the right thing -- tangible evidence that the desire is there.

Then I heard at a meeting at least one interesting benchmark: 'The company has to lose a deal first.' In other words, leave money on the table. What's fascinating about that, of course, is that it's not something that companies can openly discuss; 'Oh, yeah, we lost XYZ Corporation because we refused to lie about their sewage spill.' Yet, as a litmus test, it's actually pretty good. How can we reconcile those competing issues?


5 comments

Oklahoma Wine News - 4/21/2004 2:11:40 PM
I think that the legal fiction that Phil Wolff refers to above is a dangerous fiction indeed.

Corporations are designed to avoid any liablities and water down accountability in an ocean of virtual ownership. Expecting behavior that is 'good' in the conventional sense seems naive.

In fact, expecting any kind of the consistently of personality that we observe in individuals seems unlikely.
Phil Wolff - 4/20/2004 11:44:51 PM
Despite the legal fiction, corporations aren't people. If salesman Andy takes a kickback, does that make salesman Bob a wrongdoer? How far are you willing to take guilt by association?

I'm reading Art Kleiner's 'Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege, and Success'. One of the ideas is that the core group is the only part of the company not really fungible. Are culpability and measures of good citizenship better applied to the core?

We don't know how to consistently identfy the core group or choose non-financial public-interest behavior to measure. Should we be devoting research careers to solving these problems?
TomBat - 4/20/2004 12:18:13 AM
The only good corporation is a dead corporation. Forcing them into losing deals is a good start and a win-win. If they drop a bad deal that's good. If they drop a 'good' deal just to prove they can that's good, too. They lose that bit of lifeblood. This diminishes the corporation either way.
Curt Rosengren - 4/19/2004 10:34:49 PM
I suppose the first thing you'd need to do would be to define what 'good corporation' actually meant. No company is going to conduct business with zero negative impact (just like no person is going to go through life with zero negative impact). So perhaps the key is look at corporate goodness as a ratio. How about this as an over-simplified way to look at it?

Positive impact divided by negative impact = Good/Bad score (rating each element on a scale of 1 - 10).

Completely muddy and unworkable if you try to literally use it to mathematically define corporate goodness, but at least a conceptual place to start thinking about it.
K! - 4/19/2004 10:18:25 PM
Of course 'the company has to lose a deal first'. Money left on the table is not necessarily money lost on the table. It's just money one wasn't willing to go after because the long term cost was too great. I could sell drugs on the street corner. Am I losing on a deal if I refulse to do it and leave the money on the street corner that I could pocket for myself. Perhaps it's more important to me to have my children and my neighbour's children as curious young people fully engaged in life rather than drug addicts. Sometimes it's easy to reconcile the competing issues. My children's future as citizens or me being rich from selling drugs and undermining the fabric of society. Sometimes it's not so easy. It is not what money one is leaving on the table it is what one is committed to.

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