Monday, January 16, 2017

Conflicts of Interest and Personal Bias

Ultimately a discussion on conflicts of interest and personal bias is centered around the concept of ethics. How one conducts their personal and professional business. As Dan Ariely discuses in his 2011 TED talk Beware conflicts of interest, all people have inherent bias that is shifted towards their own personal interests. It is not necessarily malicious behavior or meant to harm or take advantage of others. As Dan puts it, we’re very good at being “blinded by our own incentives.” We are always interested in what suits us best.

However, in some cases this inherent bias can lead to destructive practices. In Dan’s 2013 TAM talk The honest truth aboutdishonesty, he imagines the thought processes behind they American financial crisis of the past decade. By reducing transparency on financial decisions and having been shifted so far away from the persons that would suffer from poor decisions, the possible consequences seem less severe. Furthermore, by creating incentives to do what would be considered wrong or unethical makes the wrong action seem justifiable because the personal outcome becomes a positive one. What’s more, the further we are removed from our actions the better we feel about misbehaving. He touches lightly on the idea of cognitive dissonance, without getting into it. The idea that in some cases we convince ourselves that our actions are not wrong or unethical, but in the right and justifiable.

Ultimately, personal and professional biases have impacts on others. But these impacts are avoidable and in some cases, unnecessary. Perhaps by identifying our own personal biases we can intentionally avoid them, removing conflicts of interest and possible breaches in ethics. The result would be a society of people that treat each other appropriately and conducts themselves in a respectable manner. It sounds like a pipe-dream, but perhaps if we took the time to consider how our actions affect others, it wouldn’t take very much to see positive change. 

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