Spongy Ethics

by Ken Vincent, Featured Contributor

MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN, is being written, and will be written about ethics.  The need for them, how they define a company, and what they consist of.  Words like honesty, truth, empathy, and many others are used to define ethics and parts thereof.

Ethics are personal.  There is no universal standard.  Each person has to draw his/her own line in the sand.  Okay, that is fine, but in living with the struggles of every business ethicsday those lines get wavy.  Sometimes they get erased or moved.  Sometimes they are just flat get ignored because it is expedient to do so.

Nothing new in that of course.  It has been going on for thousands of years.  Landlords evicted starving serfs from their hovels when they couldn’t pay the rent and then went to church the next day.  Preachers and pastors uphold the teachings of their church when in the pulpit, and then do otherwise.  The list could be endless in all venues, but lets bring the issue closer to home.

What about when your company replaces the metal cog in the widget you manufacture with plastic.  No change in price, no notice to the buyers.  Do you object knowing the new product is inferior?  What about when your cereal company puts 8 ounces of cereal in the same size box at the same price instead of 10 ounces.  Do you quit?  We justify those things by saying, “Its just business”.  Many of the seamen and even captains plying the slave trade didn’t like it, or believe that it was right, but it was “just business”.  What about the new entrepreneur having trouble attracting investors and he begins to massage his projections and operating numbers? It is just business.

The bottom line is that ethics have always been and still are malleable.  They are like that wad of play doe your child is molding to fit his desire.  We all decry those that we say have no ethics as we hold ours up as examples to emulate.

But how rigid are your ethics and mine.  Are they modifiable to fit the necessities of the day?  Are we sometimes that biblical figure casting the first stone?  Where is that “won’t cross line” in your ethics?  Have you ever been pressured by circumstance or employers to make them a bit more “spongy”?


Ken Vincent
Ken Vincent
KEN is a 46 year veteran hotelier and entrepreneur. Formerly owned two hotels, an advertising agency, a wholesale tour company, a POS company, a leasing company, and a hotel management company. The hotels included chain owned, franchises, and independents. They ranged in type from small luxury inns, to limited service properties, to large convention hotels and resorts. After retiring he authored a book, “So Many Hotels, So Little Time” in which he relates what life is like behind the scenes for a hotel manager. Ken operated more that 100 hotels and resorts in the US and Caribbean and formed eight companies. He is a firm believer that senior management should share their knowledge and experience with the next generation of management.

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  1. Ken, Joeseph, Dennis, thanks for your comments. In my presentations, I remind people – “Don’t be the frog.” – If you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out. But if you put that frog in comfortable water, and slowly turn up the heat, it will boil to death. We draw our lines in the sand, but depending on the situation (maybe it involves a close friend or relative) we move our line back. Once we do that, it becomes easier to accept that lower standard. All of a sudden, we find ourselves in hot water, and wonder how we could have ever gotten there, because we consider ourselves to be ethical.+

  2. If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination. DeQuincy quote. The ethics continuum is wide and comes from the last thing I did and how I did it. The next thing I do, if not checked before I do it, can be the next step in a down spiral that can one day hit me in the forehead as awful unacceptable and embarrasingly far from what I proclaim are my ethics. Ethics, therefore, for me, is daliy diligence in staying fully honest with myself, what I am doing and why it is OK