I recently spoke with a friend who used to pick vegetables at a vegetable garden when he was younger. At the vegetable garden, workers were paid by the pound for some types of vegetables and by the bucket for other types. He told me that many people would “accidentally” add a few rocks to their buckets for the vegetables that were paid by the pound. He also said that workers would stack the vegetables in the bottom of the bucket in a log cabin style so as to use up as much space with the fewest amount of vegetables for the vegetables that were paid by the bucket. My friend is an honest person, and if he did participate in this behavior in the past, I doubt he would do so now. The story got me thinking about fraud in the business world and some of the similarities we see in this type of rationalization.
I’m sure many of the workers at the vegetable garden rationalized that the owners never specified how the vegetables had to be stacked in the bucket or that rocks shouldn’t be with the vegetables that were weighed. Alternatively, many of these employees probably also thought they were underpaid for working outside in the sun, and they may have felt they deserved more money. Does this make it right?
Several years ago, Sherron Watkins, the whistleblower at Enron, said the following about the difficulties of rationalizing (see the interview at this link):
“I think there are difficult moments of truth when leadership is tested. And if these moments are not faced honestly, if the hard decision is not made at that point, it becomes next to impossible to return to the right path. It is that rationalization we spoke of before. Once you start to rationalize, you're stuck.”
I agree with what Sherron Watkins said. Whether you work at a vegetable garden picking vegetables or work as an executive at a Fortune 500 company, it is important to remember the dangers of rationalization. If you find yourself starting to rationalize anything, try to view the situation from a different perspective and then decide if what you are doing is still okay. Remember, if you start rationalizing your actions, you could find yourself stuck in a bad situation from which it is very difficult to recover.
See this previous post about a swimmer who rationalized.