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Temptation: It's Stronger Than You Think

How to avoid ethical pitfallsIt's Friday so maybe, just maybe, one or two of you out there are feeling the temptation to slack off. You may think you're a tough enough character to resist the urge, but according to a recent study co-authored by Loran Nordgren, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management, you might want to re-evaluate your ability to walk the straight and narrow.

Whether it's the temptation to behave unethically, cut corners at the office, eat that second slice of cake or go back on your promise that last Friday's cigarette would be your last, the researchers consistently found people overestimated their ability to resist temptation. After tormenting study volunteers by subjecting them to the temptation of tasty food, a smoke, or putting off work until the night before an exam, the authors concluded:

We have less restraint than we think we do.... The recent lending crisis provides an example of how restraint bias plays out in the business world. There was quite a lot of temptation to cut corners and act shortsightedly and there weren't a lot of guidelines and restraints on people's behavior.... We expose ourselves to more temptation than is wise.
If you're new to the business world, you might be forgiven for believing that those who commit ethical lapses are somehow a different class of people with an inherent disregard for what's right. This study suggests that they might be more like you than you realize. Rather than rely on self-control, the research suggests those looking to avoid ethical pitfalls and the temptation to slack build structures that make it difficult to do those things. Schedule collaborative work on a Friday afternoon so your colleagues or clients can keep you focused. Hide the cookies in a locked drawer. But whatever you do, don't rely on will power alone.

(Image of temptation sign Seth Mazow, CC 2.0)