Abu Gharib and Enron- Two Faces of the Same Problem

I recently read a book called The Lucifer Effect, by Phillip Zimbardo. My Zimbardo was the sponsor of the pretty much infamous Stanford Prison Experiment.  In this book, Dr. Zimbardo outlines what happened in these experiments with the atrocities that happened at Abu Gharib prison.  I think that Zimbardo’s theories regarding social psychology and evil can also be attached to activities in the business world.

From a social psychology standpoint, Abu Gharib and the Stanford Prison experiment share a lot of the same qualities of what happened at Enron.

  • There may have been active complicity on the part of senior management, but more than likely, a passive complicity was in play. While senior management may have not explicitly encouraged criminal activities, the reward system or lack of punishment for these activities gave a silent nod to their continuence.
  • A lack of transparancy: Either structures were not set up,  improperly set up, bypassed, or not enforced, that could have provided monitoring from outside agencies or impartial judges.
  • An “us versus them” mentality, where insiders felt that they were different, better, and smarter than the “other” population, be it prisoners or in Enron’s case, the public.
  • A lack of people on the inside who had both the power externally and the intestinal fortitude necessary to say that what was being done is wrong.

One can not mitigate personal responsibility in the cases of Enron or Abu Gharib. Enron came tumbling down because one employee went public. Abu Gharib could not have happened without at least tacit compliance from all involved.

Integrity must take the lead of loyalty in these cases.  Intregrity is a compass, loyalty is a booster. Integrity points one in the right direction, loyalty aligns energy, but without integrity, the energy could be used for harm.

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