JOHN DALLA COSTA'S BLOG  
     
  Our Loss: Davos in the Rearview Mirror
In his book, "Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder," Nassim Nicholas Taleb tells a story that may help put the disappointment of this year’s Davos gathering into some ethical perspective. Welcomed as a best-selling author, Taleb was one of the celebrity thinkers brought to Davos to help the gathered global elite wrestle insight from the long, still unfolding aftermath of the financial crisis. Expecting critical and constructive dialogue, Taleb discovered the backstage reality to be dangerously out of sync with the on-stage declarations of concern. To his chagrin, he was approached while there by a former Vice-Chairman of the Federal Reserve ...

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Hitting the Ethics Gym for a New Year’s Workout
For a little while at least many of us will be sweating a bit more than usual to get into shape. But what about honing our professional skills? How do we strengthen them? And our workplaces. How do we pump up our teams and organizations to get ready for all the ordeals and opportunities coming at us? I tell the MBA students and Board Directors I teach that ethics is like any other muscle - it gets stronger with frequent exercise. Training matters. We can’t expect to have the ethical brawn to meet the moral demands of our toughest questions without ...

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T.O. Post-F.
Whether Toronto Mayor Rob Ford gets indicted or re-elected, the most pressing priority for the city will be to change the local and global narrative. A city with self-proclaimed aspirations to be “world class” has by association with this disturbing governance failure achieved the desired celebrity, albeit missing two key consonants. But more than mere reputation is at stake. A special city needs to refashion its self understanding, so as to begin to heal the divisions laid bare by this tragic-farce in leadership, and to set a vision for its future that better represents its amazing latent potential. In many ...

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Be Wary: Ethicist at Work
Are ethicists more ethical than their peers in other disciplines? It’s an interesting question. A recent study published in the journal Metaphilosophy provides a limited data point, but the news, at least if you’re an ethicist like me, is not good. Comparing how university professors engage students, the researchers found no difference between ethics professors and other faculty. Even though the ethics experts set an ideal, and acknowledged that not following through on that standard was morally wrong, in action, the experts in ethics were indistinguishable from fellow academics. Are you surprised? I’m not. But I am distressed. I’m not surprised, because ...

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Two Modalities for Applying Austerity
“Austerity” was recently called the word of the decade in the Wall Street Journal. From the perspective of business the primary deficits to be tamed are those in public spending, but the truth is that our economy and consumer culture are as over-extended as our public purse. In fact, we face multiple deficits simultaneously. In The Sustainability Revolution, systems-learning pioneer Peter Senge explains that stabilizing “CO2 in the atmosphere at levels that minimize catastrophic consequences will require 60 percent to 80 percent reduction in emissions in the next two decades.” Michael Pollan, who writes about the culture and the environmental costs ...

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Less Needs to be More: The Austerity Ethics for an Austerity Economy
Either as deliberate policy or by necessity, governments and companies are almost everywhere adopting austerity measures. The stringency in spending is required for the simple reason that debts aggregating over decades cannot be sustained.  As it happens, economists, politicians and chambers of commerce have focused their austerity demands on public spending, were deficits have become particularly onerous.  Mostly forgotten in this rush to cut spending is any acknowledgment that the current ballooning of public expenditure was in large part caused by having to extend trillions of dollars of liquidity, bailout and stimulus support for the economic crisis unleashed by the ...

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When Still Waters Run Shallow: Have Business Ethics Become Harmless?
Let’s do a thought experiment. Focus group moderators will often ask participants to anthropomorphize a company or brand. For example, to probe aspects of corporate character or brand personality, researchers will ask: “If BMW were a person, whom would that person be?” Many companies today have officers or functions for overseeing ethics or compliance, so for this thought experiment, I would ask: “If current business ethics functions were a person, who would that person be?” In such exercises, experts tell us to go with our first impression, trusting what immediately comes to mind as representing some kind of subconscious truth. ...

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Mis-Firing: When Catharsis Foils Wisdom
I for one am the disappointed that BP CEO Tony Hayward has been fired.  From press reports about his response to the oil-spill disaster it is hard to argue against cause. Clearly overwhelmed by the emergency, Hayward committed numerous personal and corporate miscues during BP’s efforts to deal with the human, social and environmental fallout of the oil well explosion. He must have been a smart guy to earn the top-job at BP, however, when it counted most in crisis, he displayed much more insensitivity than intelligence. While I’m all for the principle of accountability, I can’t help feeling that ...

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Is the Accountability Industry Accountable?
Among its many missteps in the Gulf, BP has now hired public relations executives  to pose as journalists along the beaches besmirched by its oil spill. With so much incompetence and deception on display, it is hard to believe that only recently BP earned recognition from corporate social responsibility innovators as the most accountable large corporation in the world. BP won the Account Ability Rating™ award outright in 2004 and 2005, and came in second in 2006. With such credentials we need to ask some tough questions. Is it that the corporate culture that earned kudos somehow turned 180˚ in ...

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“Much More, Much Faster”
With the world’s attention focused on BP’s troubles, the news that the Indian government this week convicted seven former employees of Union Carbide for “death by negligence” slipped under the radar. In fact, the Bhopal gas plant leak that killed thousands of people in 1984 deserves both the dignity of recognition, and respect for being a cautionary tale about what is unfolding in the Gulf. Critics such as Amnesty International have described the long-delayed legal convictions in India as “too little, too late”.  Forty tons of toxins released from the plant killed 3000 people at the time of the accident, ...

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ABOUT
John Dalla Costa

John Dalla Costa is the founder of the Centre for Ethical Orientation (CEO), a Toronto-based consultancy working with business, the public sector and non-government groups to foster ethical excellence in operations and outcomes.

In addition to models for governance and organizational change, CEO has designed and developed processes for integrating ethics within strategy and culture.

The author of four books published internationally, John has spoken at conferences around the world including the Bilbao Conference on “Business as Calling” in Spain, the Vienna Peace Summit in Austria, the London Form in the U.K., The Jakarta Interfaith Dialogue in Indonesia, and at the Global Business Forum at the United Nations Millennial Summit in New York.

John is a founding faculty member and the ethics instructor for the Director’s College (the joint venture between the Conference Board of Canada and McMaster’s Business School advancing board governance and social performance). Since 2008 he has also taught ethics and social responsibility in the MBA program at the Schulich School of Business at York University.

John is a graduate of the Owner/President Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. In 2001, John completed a Masters of Divinity Degree (Summa Cum Laude) at Regis College at the University of Toronto. He was also inducted into the Jesuit honour society Alpha Sigma Nu. He is now working on a doctorate, exploring the interfaith resources for advancing sustainable development.