The Dark Side of “It’s not my problem” and the Power of Inter-dependence

As long as I meet my goal of keeping engine pressure at a certain level, the fact that the ship hit an iceberg is someone else’s problem.”
Building from Joe Koletar’s blog entry on Drucker and MBO (managing by objectives), we turn our attention to the problem of the dangers of single-minded goal fixation and the ties to fraud. Our colleague, Sridhar Ramamoorti, (also the senior editor of The A.B.C.s of Behavioral Forensics) discovered the above quote at a Titanic exhibition. He noted the statement was so outrageous he laughed out loud.

In a sense it is laughable that someone would be so out of touch with something that threatens his own life and not know it. Unfortunately, those of us who are impacted by the global marketplace (basically anyone reading this), were given a demonstration of the degree of risk with the recent financial crisis. And we continue to be.

Here, we will explore the ties of single-mindedly driving to a goal and the risk of fraud.

The Pyrrhic Victory
Imagine this scene: you are at a family reunion, men of all ages have congregated together and are teasing each other and sharing tall tales. Then, one of the younger men, typically a newlywed, boasts about how he told his new wife off. He’s proud of getting the last word in and winning an important battle. As he tells his tale, he punctuates the story with why it was important to set the right tone in the marriage: how he is not going to be one of those guys who is all about being sensitive nor about listening. He plans to be “the man” and not be run over or put in his place like weaker men he knows. He wants to declare his independence and the primacy of his goals and needs. As he concludes, you note he declares victory in his tale because the conversation stopped, there was a dark cloud that came over his wife’s face, and she “stormed out”.

Can you picture this scene?

Now imagine the others’ response to this boasting. The unmarried gaze with adoration at their hero. But, for those men who hear the story and have experience being married, there is now another cloud that falls over the scene. Like doctors hearing someone dismissing a fever while noting the symptoms of Ebola, or an arrogant CEO describing her business while the board of directors hear the signs of a failing business, everyone but the person telling the tale knows something is wrong. Horribly wrong. They, as well as the men at the family reunion, have all been witness to a Pyrrhic Victory.

Pyrrhus has the unfortunate honor of being one of the few generals who was able to defeat the Romans. Battling the best army in the world with skillful tactics, he defeated them not once but twice. In the end however, the costs to his army were too great. The Roman army was too large and could afford to take the losses they sustained. Relative to Pyrrhus, the Roman resources were infinite.

If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.
Life of Pyrrhus
– Plutarch

Human Interdependency
Our imaginary young newlywed senses he won and has vanquished the opposition, but the wise uncles and cousins know he has not. His wife does not want to have her goals and plans dismissed. She will re-engage in the battle and our young man will learn his victory was a Pyrrhic one.

Yet he has an out.

Unlike the Romans, if he can begin to see the need to not try and fight over goals but to see goals as a give and take, he will find a balance with his new wife and avoid victories that leave him utterly ruined. To do so, he will need to allow some of her goals to be primary and his secondary. This allows for inter-dependence: a shared interconnectedness in the work as a couple. If they do it well, this will be an important principle for their marriage.

In our imaginary setting, there will be those who will see the dynamic playing out poorly for him and will want to help their kin. Battle-scarred men will come to his aid to share a better path.
This has echoes in the financial crisis:
· Why bother thinking about soft skills if they get in the way of profits?
· Why question the trend – do you want to kill the golden goose?
· What role do regulators play other than to hold back the free market’s beauty?
· Why should good people pay for losers’ mortgages?
These simple-minded frameworks miss the power of working to see that an ethical, humane, and interdependent market place has value in the long run.

We welcome your comments.

Join us for more insights into behavioral forensics (behind fraud and similar white collar crimes) from the authors of A.B.C.s of Behavioral Forensics (Wiley, 2013): Sri Ramamoorti, Ph. D., Daven Morrison, M.D., and Joe Koletar, D.P.A., along with Vic Hartman, J.D. These distinguished experts come from the disciplines of psychology, medicine, accounting, law, and law enforcement to explain and prevent fraud. Because we are inspired to bring to light and address the fraud problems in today’s headlines, we encourage our readers to come back and revisit us regularly at


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