Random thoughts on competing, cooperating and morality LO18199

Richard C. Holloway (learnshops@thresholds.com)
Tue, 26 May 1998 05:56:05 -0700

How do we know when competing is right or wrong? Or, for that matter,
when is cooperating right or wrong? Making value judgments about our
actions is an ethical process--and, as I reflected on our ongoing
conversation concerning competition/cooperation, it occurred to me that
values have been an integral element of that conversation.

I had shared some principles in a posting (Morality in Learning
Organisations LO17946) on May 1st that I've found useful before. I
thought it would be interesting to consider competition and cooperation
within their context. The principles mentioned by Pfeiffer and Forsberg,
again, are:

Principle of Honesty (do not deceive)
Principle of Harm (do not harm others)
Principle of Fidelity (keep promises and act faithfully)
Principle of Autonomy (permit and encourage others to act
Principle of Confidentiality (keep confidential information in
proper circles)
Principle of Lawfulness (do not violate the law)

So, in a sweeping generalization, I will say that either cooperating or
competing is "wrong" when it violates any of these principles--and that
either action is "right" when it advances any of these principles. The
dilemma, of course, is when competing or cooperating may violate one or
more principle while advancing one or more principle.

I would be interested to hear (read?) your (I'm writing to you if you're
reading this and are moved to respond) points of views or opinions in
applying these principles to specific scenarios. For instance, moving
businesses off-shore to take advantage of cheaper labor (looser safety
standards, lower payroll, lower taxes and insurance, etc) may violate the
principle of harm (mass unemployment among those who used to perform the
labor); and, in some cases, the principles of honesty and fidelity (if
there were promises or contracts among stakeholders to keep the business
in the home region). Some might also say that exploiting third world
labor violates the principle of harm.

An example of cooperating activities that violate principles (harm,
autonomy, honesty, lawfulness) might be a case where realtors agree,
informally, to keep certain neighborhoods off-limits to specific racial or
ethnic groups. There are often cases that appear to violate the principle
of lawfulness where competitors cooperate to keep a particular market
share for themselves by driving out other competitors.

This might be an interesting conversation, connecting morality in learning
organizations with issues of competition and cooperation (and, perhaps,
coopetition). I'm hoping that we might see a pattern emerge that makes it
easier to discern ethical dilemmas about competing and cooperating--and to
choose a best course of action.


Doc Holloway

"Only a life lived for others is worth living."  -Albert Einstein

Thresholds--developing critical skills for living organizations Richard C. "Doc" Holloway Olympia, WA ICQ# 10849650 Please visit our new website, still at <http://www.thresholds.com/> <mailto:learnshops@thresholds.com>

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