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  • June 14, 2018
  • Chuck Osborne

Just Do the Right Thing

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”  – John Wooden

One could live his whole life based on John Wooden quotes and do pretty well. This is one of my favorites. I suppose that is because I had an uncle who used to say something very similar. He would say, “Do it right the first time and you won’t have to do it over.” That advice has saved me a lot of time throughout my life.

It seems so simple, yet it isn’t. If I watch TV it is usually sports. As such, unlike many who now binge-watch shows commercial-free, I am still a slave to commercial breaks. While watching the recent NBA Championship I witnessed perhaps the strangest commercial break of my life.

The first commercial was for Facebook. It showed how wonderful the service was when it started, then how they had abused their users’ data. They apologized and promised to get back to what made them great in the beginning.

The second commercial was for Wells Fargo. It showed the storied history of one of the nation’s oldest banks, and talked about how they were built on trust, right up until the moment they betrayed that trust to create fake accounts. They apologized and promised to get back to what made them great in the beginning.

The third and final commercial was from Uber. You’ve got it: They showed how wonderful they used to be, apologized for their founder’s behavior, and promised that the new management would get back to what made them great in the beginning.

You just can’t make that up. Three commercials in a row with companies apologizing for not doing the right thing, but promising to do it over. It makes one wonder what in the world is happening in our corporate culture?

As a backdrop I am watching these commercials at a time when Norfolk Southern had decided it was a good idea to park idling trains behind our neighborhood for 19 straight days. Now we knew there was a train track back there when we moved into the neighborhood many years ago, and the passing trains have never bothered me. In fact, it is kind of cool. However, having a train stay there, constantly running for 24 hours a day for 19 days, is something completely different. Our oldest neighbors have been in the neighborhood for more than 40 years, and this had never happened in their memory.

When I started my career I had mentors whose primary strength was common sense. Today we have too many managers whose primary talent is having gone to the “right” business school. They are very intelligent, yet know nothing. My mentors were constantly self-effacing. They would start most sentences with, “You know I’m not that smart, but….” Today we have managers who never seem to question themselves.

Who didn’t question selling peoples’ data without permission? Who didn’t question the wisdom of setting up fake accounts? Who didn’t question the “playboy” culture at Uber? Who decided it was okay to treat a residential neighborhood like a train yard?

Doing the right thing is not just about being ethical – it would be great if we lived in such a world, but that is naive. Doing the right thing is also about having the common sense to understand that not doing the right thing will eventually bite you back. If you don’t do it right, then eventually you will have to do it over. Words to live by.

Warm regards,

Chuck Osborne