Miles Burke

Thoughts on startups, small business, marketing & more.

A Question of Ethics

Road marking

It’s personally gratifying for me to read the comments on posts and articles (as well as the recent calls, emails, etc) I have previously written about the fine line of ethics in business, particularly in the web industry, and read so many other industry players agree with me on what’s right or wrong.

I have had my fair share of debate as well; sure, it’s easy for me to say what I believe is ethical and what isn’t, and that it isn’t a definitive line, and I am publishing what I think is right or wrong. As far as I am concerned, that’s the point. It is MY personal view on what is ethical and what’s isn’t, or what is in the grey area in-between. Sure, there’s no list of boundaries and that it is my personal view, however I like to believe with twenty years of business management and ownership in various forms, I can speak from my own personal experience.

Let’s be frank here. I would never steal someone else’s design and call it my own. I wouldn’t use competitors intellectual data or client lists for my own advantage, I wouldn’t advertise using AdWords and specifically target searches for competitor business names or trademarks. There’s a stack of other things I also wouldn’t do, yet I haven’t written about.

The responses from my most recent two posts have inspired me to work further on the idea of an opt-in code of conduct, something I have been discussing and thinking about for a few years now. If I did start to facilitate a list or a code or whatever we call it, and open it to peer review, do you believe it would be worthwhile? Would you consider be involved in guiding it? Would you even consider adopting it?

Be keen to hear your feedback – shout out in a comment below…

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8 Comments

  1. STEVE

    I’m not in the web design industry, but it irks me that there are shonky people in my industry too. Enjoying reading your posts, Miles, and do believe a ‘code of conduct’ would be a great tool to have, as long as it is properly managed and policed somehow.

  2. Totally behind you on the production of a Code of Conduct. It really is about time that the Web Industry self regulated and in someway removed the cowboy, fly-by-night image that we have with the general public.

    I hear daily of so many “unethical” practices that people within web industry conduct. It makes me shudder everytime I hear about it.

    Just because we work online, on the web, is no excuse to treat it like the “Wild West” and leave our morals and ethics at the door.

  3. Yes I’ve long thought that has been a necessary step. It’s not about enforcement… it’s about letting everybody know where the acceptable line of best practise occurs. People can choose to cross that line, but they will know in doing so that they have crossed into the dark side.

    As for what is ethical or not… that’s actually easier than it sounds, depending on the ethical theory you choose to use. What is moral shifts with time… what is ethical has always been. For example, slavery was always unethical even when it was moral. So big picture ethics can be a bit sticky.

    But there is for sure a good argument for the code of ethics, for sure.

  4. Codes of conduct are almost routinely useless if delivered by and subscribed to by the industry itself. Think of ‘voluntary’ advertising standards code, car safety codes, etc. They’re all very well and make the public feel good, but unless there’s some external public regulator who has enforcement powers they’re not going to be worth the paper they’re written on when the chips are down and you (metaphorically, not you personally, Miles) have to choose between your conscience and paying your staff/putting food on your childrens’ table.

    But you know what an anti-corporate leftie I am :)

  5. Mate, this has been bandied about in coffee shops and pubs (and many emails) around Perth more than you might imagine.

    In my opinion, it IS time for something, though I’m not sure what. 4 years ago when I was just starting my business I would’ve said some slightly different things than I would now, but they’d all revolve around that one central idea a “Code of Conduct”.

    I’m all for it and would happily include you in future conversations (some of which I may have even had with Mr Tuna up there), I think our industry desperately needs this.

  6. I’ve recently been mired in a situation involving an extraordinary unethical competitor, a supplier to one of my clients, who has waged a campaign bordering on psychological abuse with the goal of transferring the web services contract away from me to them. The battle has been going on since last summer and has taken up far too much of my time.

    For that reason, I am of two minds with your suggestion. If certain common sense facts have to be laid down to people who are arrogant enough to behave unethically in the first place, is it worth it?

  7. Tiang

    I don’t know much about an industry wide code of conduct, but I’ve adopted these 4 principles for my own:

    And so, “The Four-Way Test of the things we think, say or do” was born:

    1. Is it the TRUTH?
    2. Is it FAIR to all Concerned?
    3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
    4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

    http://thefourwaytest.wordpress.com/history-of-the-four-way-test/

  8. 5. How would I feel about it if it was being done to me?
    6. What would the industry be like if everybody did it ALL of the time?
    7. What would the most disadvantaged affected person think of what I’m doing?
    8. If it was revealed and put on the front page of a local newspaper would it be embarrassing or hurt my reputation?

    But in the end… Codes of ethics aren’t about enforcement, but about building awareness of right from wrong.

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