Friday, September 22, 2006

The Business of Cheating

The Toronto Star reports that MBA students are likelier to cheat.

According to the study “Academic Dishonesty in Graduate Business Programs: The Prevalence, Causes, and Proposed Actions:”

"56 per cent of graduate business students admitted to cheating in the last year, compared with 47 per cent of non-business students."

The study, which included 5,000 MBA students from 11 graduate business schools in Canada and 21 schools in the U.S., was conducted by management professors at Rutgers, Washington State and Pennsylvania State universities, and due to appear in the next issue of the Academy of Management Learning & Education journal. Researcher Donald McCabe also noted "Those numbers are probably under-reported."

This study points towards a trend of "business-as-usual" lying, cheating and corruption where Enron (and Watergate) are the norm and not the exception. In our increasingly post-modern, post-reality, straussian-influenced culture, is it any surprised if our children emulate the attitudes and strategies we explicitly and implicitly teach them that society rewards?

Lying, cheating and corruption may be "propensities" that MBA programs arguably reward, but we can hardly lay the whole blame for a culture of corruption on business schools. In a 2005 study by analysts at Wetfeet, over 800 students interested in pursuing a career in Management Consulting were asked: "Please select up to 3 factors that make your top ranked company appealing to you." Only 2 people said that "Ethics" was one of their top 3 factors for choosing a consulting firm. (Even the category "Other" was rated more highly than "Ethics.")

You can insert all the cynical fall-of-an-imperial-power malaise comments that you want, but my heartfelt questions for you are: where and how do we intervene to correct the social trend towards accepting and condoning pathological behaviour? How do we move towards a culture of honesty, ethics and accountability? What can we do as individuals, families, communities and a society to make a difference? And finally, who do you know of who is already working to to turn the trend?

Hat tip to Steve Shu, David Maister, and Guerilla Consulting for the links.