InReview – Issue 33

There’s No Such Thing As “Business” Ethics: There’s only One Rule for Making Decisions by John Maxwell; Warner Business Books, 2003; 142 pp.

John Maxwell is a book-writing machine; he has written more than 30 books, mostly in the area of business leadership. He also manages several leadership organizations including Maximum Impact and INJOY. In the forward to this book he says someone suggested he write a book on business ethics, and he responded, “There is no such thing as business ethics” — hence the title.

His argument is not that business ethics is an oxymoron, but that we need only one ethic for life built around the Golden Rule by asking, “How would I like to be treated in this situation?” This ethic should apply equally to business, personal life, and all other relationships. Consequently, we don’t need special ethics for business.

To Maxwell’s credit, he has a realistic view of how the principle works in business. Often it pays financially for the business to treat people well, because this is just good business. But sometimes people will take advantage, or forces outside of your control will cause the business to stumble in spite of good intentions. The book includes business stories that illustrate many dimensions of the principle in action.

In my view, however, the book lacks an understanding of both ethics and business. The subject of business ethics is not about constructing a separate ethic for business. Rather, it’s about understanding both business and ethics at a deep enough level to challenge and rethink basic business principles. Business ethics should probe deeply into the purpose and structure of business, particularly now in light of the business changes through technology and globalization. In this sense, business ethics requires a deep understanding of business just as bioethics requires a deep understanding of biology.

This book would be OK, if a bit light, under a title like The Business Value of the Golden Rule. But the present title isn’t cute, it’s misleading — not a good thing for a book on ethics.

Reviewed by Al Erisman

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Business Driven Information Technology: Answers to 100 Critical Questions for Every Manager by David R. Laube and Raymond F. Zammuto, Editors; Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 2003; xix, 519 pp.

Laube is the former Chief Information Officer for US West, and presently Executive-in-Residence at the Business School, University of Colorado. Zamutto is Professor of Management at the Business School of the University of Colorado at Denver. This book is built around the years of practical experience of the first editor, combined with the more theoretical background of the second editor (he has published two other books).

The title of this book is critical. This is a book for every manager, not simply information technology professionals. IT costs a great deal of money for many companies. It is a force for strategic change. And many IT projects fail to deliver. Addressing the opportunities of IT along with its challenges requires the engagement of all of the business.

The innovative feature of this book is the questions, which run the gamut from understanding technology at a business level, to understanding strategic choices, to choosing a vendor to work with. Each question is answered by an expert in the field in a disciplined four pages or less. There is also a list of references and notes for each question.

I found the answers to these questions to range from superb to, in a very few cases, a bit weak. But this in no way detracts from the strength of the book. In a company, I could envision the best use of the book would be in dialogue between the business and the IT leaders of the company. Having the discussion, whether fully buying in to the given answers or not, would bring business benefit to both parties.

This book represents a great contribution to the business world that is increasingly impacted by information technology.

Reviewed by Al Erisman

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The Matrix Revolutions directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski; produced by Joel Silver

The first Matrix movie was ground breaking. The second, Matrix Reloaded, was a decent follow up that unraveled a key mystery — Neo’s calling to lead humanity against the machines was itself another form of control by those same machines. Matrix Revolutions lacks any substance found in the first two. As expected, Neo opens the door to let machines and humanity live in harmony. But aside from the protracted battles and costly effects, that’s about it. The most amazing thing about this movie is that it was launched simultaneously around the globe — a marvel of modern marketing technology, the same technology which takes control of Matrix Revolutions. Though the first two films have plenty of food for thought, Revolutions is just empty calories. More food for thought can be found in the philosophy section of I especially recommend “Never the Twain Shall Meet: Reflections on the First Matrix” by Philosopher Richard Hanley.

Reviewed by Gerard Beenen