Benchmark Ethics: Collaboration, Integration, and the Alternatives

Two of the core values of our Institute for Business, Technology, and Ethics are integration and collaboration. Integration refers to our will to weave together good business, advanced technology, and sound ethics. We see too much dis-integration today — people and companies fragmenting and falling apart. We see imbalanced and unhealthy situations where the technology has not been aligned with the goals and processes of the business. We see problems when ethics is no more than a sort of last resort, “damage control” procedure instead of being woven into the mission and culture of the company.

Quite a bit of attention has been paid to integrating technology and business. Technology and ethics has received relatively less attention but business and ethics is a growth industry today. What is noticeably absent is an integrated analysis of all three factors: business and technology and ethics.

Integration is cognate with “integrity” — a benchmark value discussed in the last issue of Ethix. It has to do with consistency and alignment. Without integration, our businesses and professions will be pulled in different directions and fail not just in financial terms but in terms of human performance, meaning, and health.

Collaboration is a form of integration. It comes from root words meaning “to labor with.” Collaboration is about working together. It is an integration of our thinking and working. The IBTE collaboration begins with the fact that I am a professor and Al is a practitioner; I am in academia, Al is in the business and technology world; I am a technology critic, Al is a technology creator; even when we play golf, I tend to hook to the left and Al tends to slice to the right.

Al and I were startled a few years ago to realize how separate and isolated our respective worlds were, even though both of us believed that technology was the most powerful force changing our world. We decided to collaborate and search together for a better, fuller understanding of business, technology, and ethics.

Collaboration has actually become a kind of buzzword today and is viewed very positively. But it wasn’t always so. “Collaborationist” used to refer to someone who cooperated with the invading enemy. Collaborators were traitors.

In a strange way, though, this negative connotation points to something basic in today’s new economy. Rather than regarding competitors as enemies, it is often wise to find ways to work together. Life and business are not a zero sum game. Two businesses creating similar products may create a larger market (especially if they agree on common standards of some sort) than if they operated in complete independence.

We must not be naïve about this. Competition is also part of human nature (and often produces better results than its absence). And ego and other narrow interests often disrupt or destroy cooperation and community. For such good and bad reasons collaboration is a value to pursue, but not an easy, friction-free option. But it is worth pursuing. Wisdom, creativity, and innovation, are usually to be found in a diversity of voices collaborating around a common goal and task.

In the end, we must decide whether the world (and our business) is (or is intended to be) basically in a state of permanent warfare with intermittent moments of peace and harmony–or is it in a state of harmony and balanced diversity that sometimes is messed up by tragic conflicts? Which is our vision and goal? Do we have a “harmony” model of business and human life? Or do we operate with a “conflict” model?

There is a lot of mythology (and some truth) about “cowboy capitalism” and predatory economic class warfare. The other side to the story is that trust, integrity, cooperation, and collaboration play a much larger and more positive role in business success than their negative counterparts.

As I have written in earlier columns, Benchmark Ethics is about searching for the “highest potentially common denominator” values, rather than acquiescing in the “lowest actually common denominator.”

David W. Gill was co-founder of IBTE and author of Benchmark Ethics, a regular article in the first 32 issues of Ethix. After eight years of writing, speaking, teaching, and consulting in the Bay Area of California, he joined the faculty of Gordon-Conwell Theological Center (South Hampton, Mass.) in 2010, where he is also Director of the Mockler Center for Faith and Ethics in the Workplace.