Why Smart People Do Stupid Things

patrick-kuhseThunderbird Ethics Day speaker Patrick Kuhse says he has “street credibility” when he talks about business responsibility. He pleaded guilty to money laundering and conspiracy charges in 1998 and then spent four-and-a-half years in U.S. prison. The arrest came after Kuhse fled to Costa Rica as a federal fugitive. He is not proud of his past but wants others to learn from his mistakes. “I have been there and done that,” he said Nov. 3, 2011, at Thunderbird School of Global Management during an event organized by the Lincoln Center for Ethics in Global Management. “But I have tried to learn from my mistakes, and I am trying now to share with people why we are all susceptible to this and what the warning signals are.” Kuhse outlined the following eight reasons why “smart people do dumb things” during his presentation with about 75 Thunderbird students, faculty and staff:

Entitlement: People believe they deserve better than what they have, or that other people owe them what they want or seemingly need.

Super optimism: People believe they won’t get caught. Combined with entitlement, the attitude is a manifestation of arrogance.

Affection disconnection: People stop listening to family and friends. They shift their value system from people to “pie charts and possessions.”

SUDS (seemingly unimportant decisions): People rarely start with big mistakes. Most criminal or unethical behavior starts with seemingly small and simple indiscretions.

Rationalization: People lie to themselves. They tell themselves: “Just this once,” “Everybody else is doing it,” “Nobody is getting hurt.”

Laziness: People stop covering their tracks. They start leaving paper trails and clues that point to their guilt.

Victimitis: People view themselves as the victim. They blame others for their misfortune.

Situational ethics: Instead of having absolute values, people adjust their ethical standards to different situations.

Learn more about Kuhse’s story in this Thunderbird Knowledge Network video on YouTube (2:32)


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