Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update




« Are You Suffering from ALA Laryngitis? | Main | Childhood has no rewind »


“There is no such thing as a minor lapse of integrity” - Tom Peters


This post will be tricky if I hope to take my own blogging advice to "praise locally, complain globally."

Over the past few weeks a couple of incidents at work have made me think a great deal about professional integrity and its importance in technology. Some breeches of privacy and inappropriate access to a system appear to have been committed by people whose values I thought I knew and who I thought knew better. To the best of my knowledge, no real harm was done and steps have been take to make sure such incidents don't happen again. But it left my faith in human nature more than a little shaken.

In the same way we give doctors access to our bodies and accountants access to our financial records, we give technicians access to our data in order for them to maintain the systems in which it is stored. And both a sense of professionalism and personal integrity keeps those of us who have access to such data from abusing this access. Or should.

When hiring, I've always looked carefully at both a person's technical skills and interpersonal communication abilities, deeming them the two defining characteristics of a great employee. Now I realize that without integrity, neither of these attributes is worth beans. A charming genius who can't be trusted is far worse than an antisocial incompetent who CAN be.

I don't know a simple test for integrity. I suspect most people would know the right answers to interview questions of honesty and privacy and appropriate behavior. Unfortunately, knowing the right answer is not always the same as doing the right thing. And given most people's highly advanced rationalization abilities, I often wonder if any of us can do a very accurate job of judging our own integrity.

Ironically, toward the end of the week, another incident occurred that did much to restore my faith in people. A former employee came to my office with a small plastic box in her hands and a sheepish look on her face. She explained that while doing some spring cleaning she ran across the box that had been stored with the personal school stuff she'd packed away on retirement over five years ago. She thought the box contained old rubber stamps and was shocked to find that she had inadvertently packed away the library's petty cash - money from lost books, etc. And she wanted to explain and return it. I don't remember at the time that anyone missed the funds and I am sure no one ever would have. Had she kept the money, no one would have known. Except for her, of course.


EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (6)

It all come down to the "man in the mirror". When I encounter situations like this, I wonder how people manage to look themselves in the eyes. I don't know that there is a way to determine integrity through an interview - other than the old standby of "gut feeling". I would suggest that people with a very strong vision and conviction in the importance and higher goals of their jobs would also score high in personal integrity. When your goal is to create a product that meets your own high standards, you probably have equally high standards for your own personal behavior - even when no one is looking. Personally, "doing the right thing" helps me sleep at night. And when I look at myself in the mirror in the morning - bed head is the scariest thing I see :-)

April 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJacquie Henry

This post really touched me. My father, my best adviser, died a little over a year ago. He was a great manager of people and well loved as the president of a very successful company. He talked about integrity a lot. He felt that if one did not have integrity, they had nothing. I try to remember his voice when I have choices to make and I always know what to do and can choose wisely. It is surprising how many can rationalize the wrong choice.
Thanks Doug for the reminder.

April 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTori

Your post made me think of the house down the road. The owners run a small vegetable stand with an honor system. If they happen to be away or busy in the house, you just pick what you want and leave the money. They have been in business for years. The truth is most of us are trustworthy which is why it is so upsetting when you encounter someone who isn't. It just doesn't compute:)

April 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDottie

"...I often wonder if any of us can do a very accurate job of judging our own integrity."

I love that you mentioned this. It seems to me that we're all above average in our own minds, and the truly wise recognize that we're often terrible judges of ourselves and act accordingly (even when no one's looking).

May those who bolster your faith in humanity always outweigh those who shake it, so that you may continue to offer your trust.

April 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterClint Buhs

Over the last two years, my wife and I have each been sued by people for whom integrity is not a working principle. These experiences have caused us much grief, but they have also illuminated in stark relief the champions of integrity in our lives. It's about much more than honesty; integrity implies an adult intellect with an integral fabric woven of truth and compassion. This topic actually teases the scariest part of our culture to the surface for me. The lack of integrity in society's core institutions (I could name most of them) portends a future I hesitate to predict.

April 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBill Storm

Hi Jacquie,

I like these observations. I sometime wonder if people set the goal ahead of the means of achieving the goal (ends justify the means) and that leads to problems. And some people are just plain dopes! Anyway, I hope I don't have to deal with this again for a very long time!


Thanks, Tori, for shaing this. Sounds like you made a choice of fathers! Never really understood how anyone could take pleasure in a win if it involved cheating, myself.


Hi Dottie,

We actually have a hardware store in our little town that runs on the honor system. You pick up what you want and then take it out the door, down the street and to the grocery store to pay for it! I wonder if people who are treated as though they can be trusted really become more trustworthy?

Thanks for sharing this,


Thanks, Clint. I have been very fortunate in having my trust in people justified a huge percentage of the time. I've run into very few real skunks in my day (and I like to think the incident in the post was a single bad judgement).

All the best,


Hi Bill,

Sorry to hear about your problems. It's good to hear you were able to see some benefit from the experience. However, for the sake of my children and grandchildren, I hope your prediction is wrong!

All the best,


April 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>