It’s about time I started talking about virtue

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In an earlier post I began describing the journey toward which all began with good bread.

The virtue side of started coming into being just over a year ago. 

 Before, during, and after the financial crisis I was working with a big global bank, helping senior executives there make the changes that were necessary to communicate a new brand positioning.  We were in Connecticut when the Hartford failed.  People were ashen:  they did not know if they were next and they were scared. In and around New York, it seemed like the world was going to end.  Overnight, people went from being helpful, enthusiastic and creative to being blockers:  only seeing the reason why things would not work.  People, in the main, put their heads down and tried not to get noticed.  The people who were, 24 hours earlier, “change agents” became “trouble makers” and they were the top of the list to get fired.  The change in the organisation was breath taking. All of the focus, energy, and creativity moved inward and life became about “how to keep my job” rather than “how to serve customers better” or “how to help customers through this difficult time”.  This was with good reason:  Heads of banks all over the world were pretty indiscriminate about who they sacked as long as they got the costs down. 

Yes, there were many unscrupulous sales people out there who sold loans to people who could not afford them.  No, nobody put a gun to anybody’s head and forced them to buy a new flat screen tv.  For all of the months of discussion and debate that went on after the crash, there was very little talk about good old fashioned material greed or the green eyed monster of envy.

Greed and envy are at the root of the financial crisis.  Greed and envy on all sides:  those who did the selling of the loans, preying on the ignorance and weakness of others; and those who did the buying of the goods that they could not, after all, afford.  I am not judging:  I write from a position of having sufficient means for what I want to do and am as frivolous as the next person.  I do, however, question the behaviour that got us into this mess and, more importantly, the behaviour that will get us out.

If being greedy and being envious are two of the behaviours associated with the seven deadlies (even I know that and I most certainly have not had a religious education or upbringing) maybe, just maybe, behaviours associated with the virtues, if embedded more widely in society, will help us out of this mess.  But what is virtue and what are the behaviours associated with it?  How could we start to talk about it without getting all embarrassed and how could we implement it?

It was to answer these questions that I embarked on a series of interviews about virtue.  Like the strategy consultant I have been trained to be, I established a series of hypotheses and developed questions to gather the data to prove or disprove them.  Most important to me was developing a point of view of the benefits of virtuous behaviour:  asking people to behave more virtuously was asking most of us to change our behaviour and we know that we are more willing to change our behaviour if there is something in it for us:  some kind of benefit that is meaningful.  Strategic marketeers talk about three groups of benefits:  emotional, rational, and self expressive.  Advertisers know all about this.  They bombard us with carefully crafted messages that are aimed at convincing us that we will benefit from buying this or that product or service and they have spent many thousands of pounds on developing an excellent understanding of who they want to sell to and what they need to say to be successful.  If it works for cars and chewing gum, why not virtue?

More on this later and meanwhile, thoughts on a postcard please.

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