Ethics in Technology?

courage For this week’s post, I’ll start with a song quote rather than a movie quote: “…sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same…”.  As I was thinking about the topic of ethics, this song came on my Pandora channel and I thought it was an amazing coincidence.  So what song and artist is this?

The artist (easier) is The Fray…the song: All at Once

As everyone moves through their career, people are faced with ethical choices.  Every once in a while you may be forced into the middle of a big issue; but in my experience its the many more subtle tests of our principles that can have an affect on your career and the world around you.

I’m referring to the classic “go along with the group” question.  When you’re working for a company (or even working for yourself but as part of a team) you’ll often be asked either directly or indirectly to agree with and follow “the group”. Now of course, multiple minds are greater than one and a team is often stronger than the individual.  So building consensus and moving forward as a cohesive group is often the best approach…BUT what happens when you have that nagging voice in the back of your head that says, “…this isn’t right…”?  It is often difficult to find the courage or you rationalize it saying that it will all be OK in the end.  That’s when we need to stop and think a bit.

From personal experience a couple years ago, I went along with the group (company, team) and didn’t stand up strongly enough for what I thought was right. It is easy to get into the mindset of, “that’s not my job” or “my boss will fix it” or “the executives are working on it”.  Don’t buy-in to those rationalizations! If you don’t see results, nothing is happening (what I’ve seen in my experience, anyway). Realize that executives are people too. They have insecurities, issues and problems just like anyone.  More importantly, they COULD be wrong.  Now people didn’t die because of what I did or didn’t do and the world is generally the same; but after the fact, I realized that it could damage my reputation as a professional or lead to other impacts.  So in 2014, my resolution was to – in a positive and professional way – to “call the elephants out in the room” and not let issues fester.  Of course, that’s part of the reason I named this blog as I did.

Now, bringing up some uncomfortable or unpopular topic is never easy.  It takes courage and one other thing: solutions.  The thing that you CAN’T do is simply to complain about a situation – everyone can do that.  If you speak-up, you must have a suggestion for a different path or a fix for the problem.  It doesn’t have to be “THE solution”, but you have to contribute and at least be part of the solution.

When I focused on this in 2014, I was surprised as how many times (probably half a dozen) that I had to calmly suggest that “we could do better, and here’s what I think we can do”.  So if you haven’t already (or you don’t realize it), understand that your principles and ethics WILL be tested.  Take a deep breath, keep calm and realize that no matter the outcome, you’ll have a clear conscience for doing “the right thing”….and you’ll be amazed and how much can change.

From a more broad look at ethics in technology, I think we all would agree that technology is outpacing our legal and ethical frameworks.  Many tech areas were in the news last year from drone use, to police searches of smartphones to DNA-based testing.  Clearly the issues around new technologies will only increase because our type of democratic process is not designed with speed and flexibility in mind (and that’s a massive understatement!).  So that means that individuals, teams and organizations are going to be faced with many questions that can’t be answered with current laws and regulations.  Gerd Leonhard says this much more eloquently than I can in his TED Talk.  The bottom line is that you, me and everyone has to be thinking about the ethics and morals as we innovate the next new thing…and that – sometimes – means disagreeing with your CEO, VP or other potentially intimidating person.


Veteran technology professional and manager

Posted in Career, ethics

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