Prior to 2008, most especially the summer and fall economic
fallouts, the case made in this book might have been a bit
harder sell. While there is plenty of evidence behind the models
and arguments put forward in this book, by and large most
folks—especially the leadership of the U.S.—were content to
roll along according to the old model and old mind-sets.
Now we see that the old model failed us—in a large, inter-
connected manner.
As one of the few to step forward and take responsibility for
the failings, Alan Greenspan captured this succinctly:
“Yes, I found a flaw in the model that I perceived is the
critical functioning structure that defines how the world
works …”
Indeed, we all together found the flaw, or rather, are
experiencing the consequences of the flaw. But when the facts
change, so should your mind change.
But the flaw doesn’t reside with a single individual or a
single firm or organization, although the decisions and actions
of individuals and organizations led to the widespread failures.
“The crash of the stock market and the crash of Bernie
Madoff together are really emblematic that the system
is the culprit.” – Alexandra Penney
Yes—the system is the culprit, or rather, one’s view of “the
system” and how that system is designed is the culprit.
Greenspan’s “system” design had limitations—limitations that
are addressed when we adopt a more robust definition of
“system” and plan or design for desired results in the larger
In this book I provide the concepts, ideas, and tools to keep
you and others from designing and delivering a disaster plan.
And it all centers on ethics.
Probably no topic is quite so slippery to get our arms
around as ethics, and yet there are few other topics that more
pervade all our lives, that we all think about in some form.
x Ethics by Design
Although a philosopher will quickly think of Kierkegaard or
Sartre or Plato, others who have never read those pieces will
have equally strong opinions and ideas on ethics as well.
Often, when I bring up ethics in conversation, others jump to
talking about individuals and ethics—what this person or that
person did in the office, or what some company did that costs
thousands their pensions. While individuals play an obvious
role in ethical decisions, the focus here is really on system
ethics and what that implies for effective strategic planning,
accountability, and performance design. The design of the
system greatly influences decisions, behaviors, performance
and results. We have discovered that more of human behavior
is influenced by the eco-system around people.
We design
flaws and frailties into our systems—into laws, policies,
incentives, unintentional disincentives, physical infrastructures,
educational practices, technologies, information. Whether we
are conscious of it or not, we create gaps, and we individually
and organizationally pay the price for these flaws to continue to
exist. Conversely, we can design our strengths and our insights
into these systems—if we so choose. This book is for those of
you who choose to design a different system—a future you
want your children to inhabit, that you wish you could live long
enough to experience.
“Ethics by design” is the notion that we are participants in a
larger whole—the larger system of society; it is an acknowl-
edgment that decisions have results and that we accomplish
those desired results through a deliberate effort to plan and
design towards desirable results. Desirable is defined at the
societal level—not the individual or the organizational. And this
isn’t utilitarianism. It’s not about the greatest good for the
greatest number. Majority or minority have no place here.
Instead, it is total and holistic—system ethics—everything is
inter-related. A product here or a service there or a new tech-
nology has ripple effects. “Unintended consequences” is no
longer an acceptable argument—for in many cases, we’ve
passed a tipping point for the collective “unintended conse-
quences” of many organizations and entities, all adding up to

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