Be an Ethical Entrepreneur, Marketer, and Business Builder

The Push on Netflix isn’t about psychological manipulation – It’s about Ethics

Why your business needs Core Values

Netflix recently released a new show called The Push hosted by Derren Brown. The premise is that, through psychological conditioning, what Brown refers to as social compliance, you can convince someone you just met to push someone else off a roof.

Wait what?

That’s right. Mr. Brown believes he can manipulate someone into believing the best course of action is to murder someone else.

No, normal person would do that, right?

First, you need to watch the show.

They open with an example of a person calling a busy coffee shop. The caller introduces himself as inspector general and asks the person answering the phone if he sees the lady pushing the stroller who just walked in.
“She’s a known child abductor and I need your help. When she walks away from the stroller, casually walk over and push it outside so we can get the baby back.”
“Uh. Ok. I see her. She’s not looking.”
“Go now.”

And so the man “steals” a lady’s baby in broad daylight in the middle of a coffee shop.

Not only does he comply with that request from an unknown caller, no one else in the shop seems to care that a man just pushed out the stroller that moments earlier was just pushed in by a different person.

In the book, Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, Robert Cialdini sheds some light. One factor that can influence behavior is authority. So when the caller introduced himself as “inspector general”, which, of course, was a lie, the authority of that name and position made the man who answered respect the request.

The people who were being tested to see if they would push another person off of a roof were put through hours of similar manipulation to lead them to the inevitable conclusion that by killing this one person, many, many more would be better off.

So did it work? Did the target push an innocent person to their death?

Spoiler Alert: They put several people through the experiment and 3 out of 4 did indeed push the target person off of the roof.

Insane, right!?

The host, explains that this is the power of psychological manipulation. With the right nudges and pulls in certain directions, you can get people to do all kinds of things.

There’s a whole underground “Pickup Artist” culture based on this concept.

However, is it as simple as saying we’re all subject to these manipulations?

In some ways, yes.
We can all be manipulated by these psychological quirks of human nature.

But the host leads us to believe that’s the MOST important thing – social conditioning.

He’s wrong.

Modern psychology is still largely based on the concept that our minds never forget. This is why an infant who isn’t held enough for the first 2 months of life, could then be cuddled, held, loved and cared for for decades and still be affected by that first 2 months.

Stephen Covey, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, points out that many people accept the outdated Freudian concept that we are all simply responding to stimuli and so are programmed to react a certain way based on 3 things.

  1. Our Grandparents – I have an Irish temper. In other words, my genes make me this way.
  2. Our Parents – My parents didn’t love, coddle, support, or discipline me enough and so that’s why I’m the way I am.
  3. Our Environment – Because my boss, coworkers, spouse treat me this way, I respond as I do.

Thankfully, Freud was wrong.
Very, very wrong.

Yes, all of these things do play a role in who we are and how we respond however they aren’t the whole story – or even the most important part.

Victor Frankl was a psychiatrist, professor and prisoner in a Nazi internment camp. His entire family – wife, parents, siblings – save for one sister were all tortured and murdered in the camps. Covey writes:

“One day, naked and alone in a small room, he began to become aware of what he later called ‘the last of the human freedoms’ – the freedom his Nazi captors could not take away. They could control his entire environment, they could do what they wanted to his body, but Victor Frankl himself was a self-aware being who could look as an observer at his very involvement. His basic identity was intact. He could decided within himself how all of this was going to affect him. Between what happened to him, or the stimulus, and his response to it, was his freedom or power to choose that response.”

Between the degradation and tortures applied externally to him and how he reacted to them, he still had the ability to choose.

He could choose what his mind did with that information.

So Victor decided to start mentally reciting lectures for his students about the conditions of the camp and why Freud was wrong to suggest that we were just responding to the accumulation of stimuli in our life.

Amidst unspeakable suffering, Victor was free because he chose to be free.

And this is where the host for “The Push” leads us astray.

Though we’ve known for decades that we all still have the choice to respond to stimuli in the way we think is best, Brown ignores this most crucial point.

Unfortunately, so do many of us.

The core issue with why 3 out of 4 people will murder a stranger for the greater good is not solely because of psychological manipulation but is in large part because of ethics.

In the same way that Jedi mind tricks only work on the weak minded, immoral psychological tricks only work on the morally weak.

To be fair, none of us are perfect and so we all make poor moral choices from time-to-time.

Throughout the show they keep asking the person to commit greater and greater immoral acts.

From lying about vegetarian food that isn’t actually vegetarian.
To hiding the body of a “dead” man so as not to ruin the charity that is crucial to helping the lives of so many children.
To pretending to actually be the “dead” man and giving a speech as him.

The people participating in this experiment do not have a core ethical underpinning to tell them when something is a grey area and when something is flat out wrong – like kicking a dead body to make it look like it fell down the steps.

This, of course, is a result of our modern culture where the concept that doing something for the “greater good” is acceptable.

People of all religions, faiths and beliefs do unethical and immoral things. In fact, we all do at some point.

However, Catholic morality has taught for 2,000 years that it is NEVER acceptable to do something immoral for the greater good. (Again, many do not adhere to this.)

Let’s consider that the entire world was dying from an incurable disease and you found one child who was immune to the disease who could save us. But to share the immunity and save the world, we need to kill the child. Clearly it would be for the greater good to kill the child and save humanity.

But even in that most extreme of circumstances, it is a mortal sin (i.e. you’re going to hell) to harm an innocent person.

This is in stark contrast to a person voluntarily laying down their life to save another which Christianity defines as the greatest example of love.

The end NEVER justifies the means.
Though I learned this about Catholic morality, I imagine other belief systems share the same moral underpinning (please comment with references to similar moral systems).

Few of us have defined our morality and ethics so strongly.

So when someone asks us to lie to “help the children” like they do on “The Push” we convince ourselves that a lie isn’t a big deal. And then, disrespecting a corpse. And then abusing the corpse. And then, so as not to have to admit that we were wrong and acting immorally it’s better to just kill the witness – after all, it’s for the children.

You’ll have to watch “The Push” on Netflix to understand all the references in the paragraph above.

The truth is that if the participants in “The Push” had clearly and concretely defined their values to harm no innocent person (or their corpse), then the whole experiment would have repeatedly failed.

Why your business needs Core Values

Recently I heard a story of a small business being bought out and the new owner taking over and resetting everyones’ benefits to day 0. Everyone was a new employee of the new owner’s business (which, certainly was legally accurate) and none of their tenure working for the previous business was taken into account.

This was coming from a third party so it’s hard for me to believe this is true. However, if it is, what do you think the moral core of that business will be?

Under the new owner, do you think the employees will do the right thing and the ethical thing to each other and their customers? What if doing the right thing hurts their profits, bonuses, or revenue this month?

In the short term, the profits for the business may improve and sometimes even for years those profits will stay better.

But a business built to maximize profit first at the expense of everything else, will lead to Enron-style dishonesty and massive employee turnover.

For your business and your team you need core values so people know if lying for the greater good is acceptable.

Certainly in many businesses an unethical act for the greater good is acceptable or even encouraged.

Is it at yours?

At my digital agency, Optimized Marketing, we had an issue a few years ago where we sent Google Ads to the wrong URL. Hey, no one is perfect. We could still track a few conversions from those clicks but it wasn’t what we promised.

Though there was absolutely NO way our client would ever know this happened, we contacted him, let him know, and asked him how he’d like us to handle it. He requested a credit back which we promptly issued.

It cost us about $500 however, it “bought” us more trust with that client than he’d ever experienced with any other marketing company in his decades in business. He’s been a huge supporter and referred many people to us for years now.

More importantly, it concretely demonstrated for my team that we will do the right thing even at the short-term cost of profits.

If you’ve read my blog, you understand that I say short-term because I believe doing the right things improves profits in the long term as you retain your team and clients much longer. They become fiercely loyal when they know they can trust you as a leader to do the right thing.

In your personal life and your business, take the time to clearly define your values.

Otherwise, someday you may find yourself on international TV murdering an innocent person “for the children”. As scary as it sounds, it seems that many people would make “The Push”.

To establishing a strong moral foundation in business and life,

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