Sexual Harassment: How To Evaluate And When To Pardon? Is Grace Ever Possible?

With all the mounting accusations of sexual misconduct by men in power, I have had several conversations in different countries — with men and women — that have made me pause. To date, there have been at least 40 well-known men singled out for their transgressions. In light of these headline stories, the three questions I have are:

  • When and how does one (or not) pardon an ethical failure?
  • Are ethics ever universal?
  • How and why do ethics differ from one country to another?

How to gauge the accusations?

To the extent someone commits an act that isn’t illegal, but is ethically questionable, the justice system will not be the arbiter of a punishment or reprieve. How then should society operate? How should one’s friends and family behave? In my opinion, one ought to start by qualifying the different acts. To start, one must evaluate the level of transgression and not to put all acts in the same basket. The range goes from sexism to sexual harassment to sexual aggression/assault up to predatory behavior. None is acceptable, but the scale is important (as any regular corporate training will establish). Secondly, one needs to establish the context, which includes looking at the time/era and cultural environment. Thirdly, for the less serious acts (sexist/sexual harassment), was it one-off or repetitive?

When to pardon an ethical failure?


恕 incorporates the pictogram of a heart at the bottom, and a woman and a mouth at the top. The heart portion has the most significance, as it is suggested that it is the heart’s nature to forgive. In Asian culture, as with most other cultures, forgiveness is an act of benevolence and altruism.

So, if a friend of yours has done something bad, should one: chastise, unfriend and/or delete from the phone book? Or should one try to walk in their shoes and forgive? When and how to decide to pardon someone? It is vastly different if an individual did one single bad action many decades ago when society’s mores were different, but he never repeated; versus someone who repeatedly continued to offend until he was found out. Some more religiously minded people might wish to forgive in all cases. Others carrying around some guilt might feel that they have no right to judge. Others again might feel so self-righteous as to assume the authority to judge all. The concept of forgiveness may be universal, but is it obligatory? In my mind, no one is totally clean. There’s an inherent pretentiousness even to suggest that anyone is holier-than-thou. To sin quite possibly is human. To be imperfect certainly is. Then again, when should there be a line in the ground over which one should know better by oneself, without the instruction of religion, law or friends?

You are as strong as your network

In the cases of these front page-grabbing pull-downs (Kalanick, McClure, Weinstein, Spacey, Rose…), there are two phenomena that made me upset. The fact that their ethical mishaps endured over years is inexcusable, literally. I cannot find it in me to pardon any of them, ever, even if they appear to be legitimately contrite. They unscrupulously took advantage of their position. The time for contrition was after the first offense. The acts were grotesque. The sense of entitlement repulsive. And the sanction should be unequivocally heavy. But, there is a second issue at hand: what about the people who knew (and I don’t mean the victims). I’ve often said that I am as strong as my network. Another way of saying it: your network is a reflection of yourself. When the misbehavior is sustained over years, friends and colleagues obviously were aware. It is my belief that their circle of friends ought to be ashamed, if not shamed. In the case of Charlie Rose, a long-time executive producer, Yvette Vega, admitted “I should have stood up for [the victims who came to me]… I failed. It is crushing. I deeply regret not helping them.” [Washington Post] Many individuals will be wringing their hands now…

For people in power, where the temptations might be great, [tweet_dis]the key is to have a network able to give tough love, and if necessary call you out and make you adjust. #ethics [/tweet_dis]

I am sure that the number of cases coming out will only continue as victims feel emboldened. Certainly, there will be some cases that may be questionable, but the movement is now in full stride. For many men of power out there, I am sure they are cowering with, hopefully, no small amount of guilt. They know they did wrong. I have several men in mind. I bet you do, too.

Cultural and/or universal ethics

Business_ethicsIn the wake of these headline cases, the subject often came up in conversations in my trips overseas. On my recent trip to Russia, a couple of comments caught my attention. “The #metoo movement hasn’t a hope in Russia” and “In Russia, women know the game and have learned to extract value.” In other words, Russians operate in a more blatant macho environment. Can it be that a culture — including its women (and the victims of sexual harassment) — has a justifiably different set of values? Who’s to declare/establish what’s right? When you look at religion, many have a similar set of instructions as the Christian Ten Commandments, including not to kill. Yet, so many wars have been waged under the auspices of religion. It seems that no country, culture, religion or court of law holds a universally acceptable code of ethics, if only because none is able to act the part. Between the numerous priests who have been found guilty of paedophilia, a leading Republican candidate for the Senate Roy Moore or a Democratic senator Al Franken who “stands” for women’s rights (April 2017) only to be called out for sexual harassment aggression (Nov 2017), or the forthright and self-avowed sexual prowess of Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill (Washington Post), we have seen that none can claim to be totally upstanding. All the above cases are American. The way this will play in other countries where sexual mores are different will be interesting to follow. For example, there are European countries like Germany, France, Sweden and Italy that look at nudity, sex and adultery with a different eye; not to mention Asia, South America, the Middle East and Africa. Bottom line, it is hard to believe that there can be universal ethics considering the vast array of ethical standards currently in place. But does that then put into question the notion of universal human rights?

Pardon me?

The questions that I pose at the outset of this post about when/how to pardon an individual for his transgressions is one that society needs to address without recourse to religion or the law. As a society, it’s hard to step out and affirm an ‘unpopular’ accusation. We’re programmed, for the most part, not to ruffle feathers, especially when the feathers belong to a prominent person. Yet, each of us carries our ethics at a personal level. If it feels wrong, one should recognize the feeling before doing it. If you see someone close to you acting incorrectly, one should have the courage to call him out for it at the first available moment. Personally, I have absolutely no time for individuals who have been bad for a sustained period of time, no matter their level of repentance. It is particularly grating to see individuals come crawling for forgiveness after they have been called out. But, those yet undetected and cowering have no evident incentive to come clean unless someone else breaks the news.

Ongoing ethical issues

As a German woman friend of mine said, being a young man in society these days has just become more complicated. How will flirting and courting be influenced? 

Will men and women find a suitable path that accepts our more reasonable human foibles?

In any event, we would do well to shore up our ethical backbone as we’re about to enter into a whole new sphere of tricky topics brought around via the slew of new technologies that will create new ethical conundrums. I believe this spotlight on sexual harassment and aggressions will put a new focus on the ethical backbone of current and future business leaders. As I maintain, how you are as a human being — not just as a smart leader — must be taken into consideration in the professional sphere, for example when Boards are considering their CEO.

Your thoughts and reactions?

The Craft of Storytelling – Practice Makes Perfect, But It Can Also Drive Your Closest Allies Nuts

Storytelling ArpeggioWhat makes for a great storyteller? I have to believe it’s an alchemy between talent, content and practice. Like a musician doing repeated scales and arpeggios, it is true that for those who live in close proximity, the practice can also drive one a bit nuts. The craft of storytelling is as old as the ages. It is the human condition to need to share and listen to stories; stories that move us. Some people are more gifted storytellers than others; but practice can make up a lot of the difference.

Crafting Your Stories…

It struck me, the other day, that people who have lots of friends probably have a better chance to become great storytellers. At the very least, they will be able to practice a good deal more with a live audience. If you only had a few friends, you won’t be able to repeat the same story too many times. Someone who has many friends can practice the storytelling across his or her network.

Friends & Family

Friends and family are often indicated as the first round of seed financing. They also serve as your first (core) level of fans; if they don’t want to talk about you, then you’ve got a problem. Friends and family are, naturally, the first (and most important) audience for your own storytelling. In my case, I know that I am no comedian. My (few) jokes need a lot more work. 

But when it comes to being a storyteller, it is important to be able to tell them repeatedly and in different situations. When practicing them, you can’t abuse your intimate family and friends with the same story over and over (that’s what Grandpa will do at dinner, glass of Scotch at hand). Thus, it is useful to have a wider circle of friends to refine your story and the storytelling. People’s reactions are the best feedback. If they say too often, “Yeah, Minter, that was interesting”, more than likely I need to go back to the drawing board. 

Develop Your Strategy to Practice More

Even if one doesn’t have a large network of friends, one needs to find an appropriate strategy to practice more. For the introvert storytellers, who might have a smaller (but tighter) group of friends, one will need to find alternative avenues. Depending on the personality, one such strategy is to write up the stories or record them on a private link and have the web friends give feedback. 

A weekend in Sunny, Windy, Rainy Dorset

We spent last weekend in sunny, windy, & rainy Dorset, around the wedding of my dear old friend, Tom. Using our Tom-Tom to find Tom was something of a leitmotif for the weekend as we drove around endless country roads hidden from cows’ views by huge parallel hedges. Having not had the opportunity to stay up to date with the progress in GPS (“satnav” in the UK), I found out that this Tom-Tom also told us off when we sped (note to Audi: this functionality is not available in my Audi GPS).  

For historic value, you will not find this type of photo opportunity too frequently any longer: driving a London double decker through the country roads of Dorset. This bus shuttled the wedding guests to and fro the church. The major benefit was that, riding on top, you could finally look over the ever present hedges. The downside was that the overhanging trees were not used to the more-than-average vehicular height.

Red Double Decker Bus Driving Down Dorset Lanes

A couple of highlight addresses from our visit:
We stayed at the Old Manor, Kingston Maurwood, near Dorchester, run by the charming Andrew and Mulu Thomson, whom we thoroughly enjoyed. The rooms are large and comfortable. Plenty of charm in this manor house whose roots date back to the late 16th century, but which needed a major rebuild (basically up from scratch) in the 1990s. 

Down the road from the Old Manor is Athelhampton House & Gardens (Entry £8.75/adult). This is a charming 15th century house (built 1485, the year of the Reformation) that is owned and lived in by Patrick & Andrea Cooke (in the North wing). To be visited is the King’s Bedroom which was never slept in by a King; and the double bed is at best Queen size. The top floor of the House has an exposition of the Russian artist, Marevna. We had a lovely walk the the garden (dating back to 1891), featuring splendid topiary pyramids (picture below). Athelhampton is a prized wedding location (although you only have the ceremony in the House, because it does not have any large rooms in the house itself). The House was used recently in the about-to-appear film “From Time to Time” by Julian Fellowes with Dame Maggie Smith.

Athelhampton House Dorset

Despite the blustery winds, it was a grand weekend and a lovely wedding.

Value of a Facebook Friend placed at 37 cents – What a Whopper.

How much is your friendship worth? Just 37 cents!

Burger King Whopper SacrificeI love this. Burger King is up to its notorious self, finding all sorts of ways to gain rebellious publicity. In this most recent activity, Burger King announced that it would give any person that drops 10 Facebook friends a coupon to buy a Whopper. With a Whopper priced at $43.69, that would effectively put the price tag of a friend on Facebook at 37 cents. The campaign, called Whopper Sacrifice, is now closed as some 24,000 people quickly sacrificed 10 of their friends to reap the Whopper coupon. Here is the story from the New York Times. If you want to check out the Whopper Sacrifice application, it’s here. And, if you are one of the people on the losing end, who got dropped by a now “ex-friend,” the Burger King team were sufficiently foreseeing, to provide the angry-gram application directly on their site (photo top right), with the ability to write to your ex-friend a nasty letter (replete with an angry hamburger). Here below s a neat little artistic rendering of the program from a Kenyan, Joe Ngari.

Facebook Friends versus Burger King Whopper Sacrifice

Frankly, it’s a wonderful piece of marketing, (a) getting at the notion of those who have oversubscribed their Friends, (b) giving out a free burger during the difficult economic times, and all this (c) with an application on Facebook, the second most visited site, after Google, over the Christmas period. Kudos to the BK marketing team and the Crispin Porter & Bogusky ad agency that came up with this counter intuitive program. And the cost? Ok, let’s say $10,000 for the FB app. Add $20,000 for the 2 light websites (angry-gram and Sacrifice Whopper) including the hosting for the sake of argument. And, let’s say there’s a whopping 30% uptake on the coupons (30% of $88,560) meaning $26,568 worth of redemption of the coupons sent out electronically, of course, taken at a reasonable cost of goods of perhaps 15% (I have no idea of the fast food COGS), adds less than $4,000. Of course, there are the agency fees to add. So the total cost would be $35K plus agency fees. Not bad from where I sit, even if I don’t like fast food.

Somehow, I managed not to get dropped, but I’d love to hear your reactions!

Social Shopping as part of the Web 2.0 Revolution

Social Shopping RevolutionIn the wake of the social networking onslaught has come the wave of the more overtly commercial social shopping online concept. A combination of social networking and e-commerce, the concept is a consumer-centric version of Amazon, putting the shopper at the centre and giving the “subscribers” the opportunity to vote, note and share what they like and don’t like. Community oriented shopping that allows the individual potentially to buy smarter is definitely sociologically “in the money.” I have a friend on the west coast (USA) who has launched Stylehive, but, not surprisingly, there are many competitive sites bidding on the same trend in the US (as in the brandogram above) such as Kaboodle Beta and ThisNext (N.B. ThisNext has a nice tagline “real recommendations from real people,” but also has a fairly scattered interface).

And these social shopping sites are popping up in other places around the world, including Osoyou (out of England) and I Like Totally Love it (Beta, out of Germany). While I seem to have trouble getting engaged with these sites, I must say that my favourite functionality goes to Stylehive focusing on “featured people” and its easy to understand “followers” concept, as well as the “popular bookmarks” (my lingo). Kaboodle uses “featured kaboodlers” which just is a little too esoteric. In my opinion, the battle will be won by the one(s) that establishes a true point of view. I would be remiss not to plug shopwiki, a portal attempting to list everything you can buy on line, although I note that it has only limited “social” applications so far.

Social shopping brings a new era of immediate customer feedback and will almost certainly have an impact on the marketing budgets of the future. I can anticipate that certain “opinion leaders” among the consumers may become tomorrow’s true branded spokespeople (as in the speak about your brand for real). Soon enough, we will start talking about word on line as opposed to word of mouth, and how about contaminated goods (contracted virally). kakashi I am sure that, at one point (if they haven’t already), Google and Microsoft will get more seriously in on the action of social shopping. The current MSN Shopping site is rather plain and web 1.0 for now.

As far as the future of shopping on line is concerned, there is a whole 3D world out there to augment the experience (a Second Life goes to Third Life…) Presently, the efforts of 3D on line are essentially focused on the viewing of items, without the community aspect. Beyond the ability to zoom in on articles that already exists, the new concept is to replicate the mortar store shopping experience virtually.

A few examples across a variety of consumer goods: Thanks to MED Blog, I found out about Potoroze (en français) which is still in BETA (& private, therefore non viewable). But, there is a Potoroze video screencast. And here, at La Redoute (VPC or Distance Selling specialist), you can use a virtual mannequin to try out your clothes. And, for the shoe fetishists, there are notions of a ShoeTube…shoes in motion! Finally, (thanks to this site) at one last link to a 3D tool for planning the decoration of your room (UK site).

Meanwhile, Walmart is apparently developing an altogether new experience for its online shopping site, whereby you can walk down (empty aisles) and actually remove items from perfectly stocked shelves, do a 360 inspection of the article, put it in your virtual (but visible) caddy and continue to walk down the aisle… And the good news is that you can mute the “attention walmart shoppers” announcements, get more information on the products than you can normally in a store, much less deal with being seen by the hoards of other Walmart shoppers. When I find the prototype, I’ll be sure to post it.

In the meantime, attention all you community shoppers, let your fingers do the talking and buying, but don’t forget that your credit card must have limits and to live within your limits!

Serendipity – Random Meeting in Hanoi

As I prepare a post for my impressions of Hanoi, Vietnam, I would like to isolate a great moment of serendipity–aka “oh boy, is this world small!”–that occurred on my first day of my trip.

On any business trip, I always look to get in some exercise as a way to combat the jet lag. If I can, I try to fit in a game of tennis. On this occasion, having just arrived in Hanoi, I went to find my partner at the Sofitel Hotel Metropole. I arrived at what turned out to be the back entrance of the hotel. Not realizing there were two entrances, I stood patiently while my partner waited for me at the front of the hotel.

After a few moments, a couple, also tourists, walked up to me. The smiling man, in his 60s, asked me where I was playing tennis. Sheepishly, I told him that I didn’t actually know the location of the court as it had been arranged by my partner. The conversation continued:

“So, do you always like to play tennis?”
“Yes, absolutely,” I answered enthusiastically. “I try to make it a habit when I travel.”
“I do too,” the man said quickly.
“I have a little saying,” I explain to him, “that I prefer to have a tennis playing friend in every port.”
“As do I! Well, my name is Harry Roebuck,” he said tending his hand.
“And I’m Minter Dial,” I continued, but very sure I’d heard that name before. “You don’t happen to know my father, Victor?”
“Well, yes, I do,” Harry said surprised. “Where do you live?”
“In Paris, not so far from where my father is now.”
“And, I suppose you might also know your father’s friends, Adam and Donna?” Harry asked.
“Yes,” I said, “in fact, we had Thanksgiving dinner at their place in Paris just last week.”
“The truth is,” Harry admitted, “I was invited to the same dinner party. But, as I had this trip planned, I wasn’t able to attend.”

What a lark! Harry and I met up for a drink later that day, and shared a wonderful moment. With kindred spirit, we called my father and, in a form of crank call, confused him utterly with an improvised “cross-wiring” whereby I pretended to have a call waiting that was Harry also calling me on my cell (how on earth he knew me, much less had my number blew right by my father?). We all laughed heartily once the confusion cleared.

So, the conclusion of the story might be that the world is SOOOO small. But, in the end of the day, the world is made smaller by (a) being gregarious and (b) having a large [extended] address book. So, here’s to being gregarious and shrinking the world (and it doesn’t have to happen only via the internet).

Harry and I promised to meet up “for real” in Paris. Hopefully, we will also get in a game of tennis. wink

Going public

I decided to send out a message about this very blog to my closer friends around the world… shamelessly promoting the blog or just wanting to reach out? Either way, will enjoy hearing your thoughts of the blog as new vehicle for having worldwide (hopefully interesting) conversations in the comfort of your armchair (if you so sit before your computer) and at your own time… Don’t forget to pour yourselves a scotch the next time.

“Old Friends” vs newbies

After a little discussion with Cyril, my step-brother-slash-old-friend, made me think twice about the value of old friends versus new ones. Being someone forced to compare the “American” way versus “old Europe’s” in virtually every domain, the notion of friendship and how each culture makes/keeps friends has always been somewhat of a “free punch” to the superficial Americans. In essence, Americans supposedly make friends quickly but don’t really intend to deepen into a “lasting friend.” On the other hand, the Europeans are known for being “cold” at the outset, but treasuring long-term deep friends. In the end, both styles have positives and negatives but, because of the different cultural perspectives, each style becomes offensive or confusing for the other culture.

Then, there is curious notion: have you ever felt that longer term friends are actually less likely to come to your help as the baggage creeps up on the partnership. New friends, in contrast, sometimes are more “adapted” in that they reflect the more recent history and are also less bridled with “history” (read: unpaid debts, repetitive nature of the demands…). Certainly, I love my old friends with whom I choose to stay in touch with great affection. But, I always believe there is room for good new friends.

Anyway, thought the topic was worth a quick spin.