Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Lies, and the Lying Liars who tell them at b-schools.

My apologies for appropriating the title of this post from stanfordmba, a former blogger from Stanford. A few months ago s/he wrote a post titled 'Lies, and the Lying Liars who tell them at the GSB' which was about a classmate who had blatantly lied to get his way during an exercise in a class on Negotiations. It was a recollecting of an observation and the blogger's feeling about it. It also resulted in an ourpouring of negative comments, some from people associated in some way with the school I assume, that led to the blogging effort being abandoned.

So, why am I talking about it now? I followed a link from iWhoElse's blog to The Wharton Journal a few minutes ago. In that piece was this snippet:

Thou shalt not lie in negotiations class - I certainly broke this one, by accident, I must say, and it was a white lie by comparison to some. As an example, if you are in a negotiation representing management and the union is asking for a salary increase, do not anchor your negotiation at a 15% salary decrease when the lowest settlement is a flat salary...No, that does not make you a good negotiator, it makes you a LIAR!!!!

If my memory serves me right (and I don't have an RSS feed, nor does Google a cached entry, to confirm) this sort of a situation was EXACTLY what stanfordmba was talking about! And it's gotten me hopping mad. Why is it OK that a school publication can talk about something (albeit cloaked in humor) but it's not OK for a student to make the very same observation on his or her blog?

At first blush, I was wont to dismiss this an institutional approach to what I'd think is Free Speech. Wharton's always facilitated it (right ?), through forums, diaries etc; while Stanford (the University) is the alma mater of a couple of famous graduates who recently fired an employee for blogging about life at the company that, in the ultimate irony, owns Blogger. But this is plain short-sighted-stupid thinking on my part.

I think a possible explanation, if one can be offered, may have to do with a collective sense of guilt. The fact that a similar observation was made at a similar class in two separate schools leads me to extrapolate that this is limited neither to one school nor one person in a class - it seems to be rather widespread behavior (I will know for sure when I am in similar class). So, when it is indeed addressed, the forum and tone take on a special meaning.

Bring it up the way WJ does - humorous, it-happens-all-time-and-you-are-not-the-only-one, almost condoning - and it is no threat to someone who may have, for lack of a better word, Lied in class. They can laugh it away. But the same person may take offense when this behavior is singled out and condemned. Cast now as an exception to the accepted norm, methinks they tend to retaliate against the person(s) making this claim so as to justify their actions.

The troubling aspect of this pattern of action is that the voices that take a stand against something when it happens are silenced in favor of possibly laughing it away after the fact. Isn't this the type of behavior that led to the Enrons of the world in the first place? And, shouldn't we be asking if our b-schools are filled with students who are on the path to creating more of the same?
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