Book Reviews: Honesty, The Best Policy?

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Ariely, Dan. The (honest) truth about dishonesty : how we lie to everyone—especially ourselves. Harper, 2012.

Peppers, Don and Martha Rogers. Extreme trust : honesty as a competitive advantage. Portfolio / Penguin, 2012.

One summer day an MBA student asked for my help in downloading reports from the Forrester Research database. She told me that her company hired her for an internship because she had free access to Duke databases. Her job was to download reports and to give them to her employer, who did not want to pay for the research. She could not understand why this would be unethical.

In The Honest Truth about Dishonesty, Fuqua faculty member Dan Ariely begins with a different story about “wishful blindness,” an example from the Enron scandal. Many people at the company were blind to the corruption, although the evidence was obvious. Ariely concludes that dishonesty is a deeper problem involving more than a few corrupt corporate leaders. Even the most virtuous among us has the potential to cheat and Ariely’s new book examines the forces that drive our tendencies to be honest or not, both psychological and environmental. He shows how conflicts of interest distort our perceptions of honesty. He discusses the role of rationalization, such as cheating a small amount so we can retain a positive self-image. He illustrates that dishonesty increases when the payoff is not directly tied to money. And he explains that we are more likely to succumb to temptation when we are tired.

As in his previous books, Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality, Ariely’s new book is a quick and entertaining read with heavy doses of examples and experiments, anecdotes and observations. Many of the ideas presented are counter intuitive. While some of the content may overlap his other books, this work is well worth reading.

Fuqua faculty member Martha Rogers and her business partner, Don Peppers, have also written a new book about honesty, Extreme Trust: Honesty as a Competitive Advantage. Written from the point of view of the company, the authors advise business executives that social media and technology have changed the competitive landscape. Traditional business practices that emphasize product quality and reliability, honest prices and reasonable service are no longer enough. These practices lead to what Rogers and Peppers call “trustworthiness.” Yet in an environment where consumers are widely connected, the company must adopt a new and higher standard, which they call “trustability.”

Trustable companies make it easy for customers to conduct business. They pay attention to the customer’s experience. They form long term relationships with customers and protect their interests. They serve their customers proactively and keep their focus on the long term. Companies that engage in these activities benefit from the transparency inherent in the new environment, made possible by social media, like Twitter and Facebook, as well as consumer reviews on sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. In today’s environment, what customers say to one another matters more than what the company says in its advertising. Readers in leadership and management roles will value the insights offered in this book.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

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