Neal Stephenson on Distinguishing Different Motives for Hypocrisy

You can fail to live up to your espoused beliefs due to hypocrisy or because the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. The difference is an important distinction and one with implications for the example you set in establishing the culture in a startup. Is there one set of rules that everyone strives to adhere to in your startup or is there hypocrisy–do the founders or managers play by different rules?

Neal Stephenson on Distinguishing Different Motives for Hypocrisy

An excerpt from page 183 of Neal Stephenson‘s “The Diamond Age” that have implications for the culture of a startup or an economic region.

“We take a somewhat different view of hypocrisy,” Finkle-McGraw continued. “In the late-twentieth-century Weltanschauung, a hypocrite was someone who espoused high moral views as part of a planned campaign of deception—he never held these beliefs sincerely and routinely violated them in privacy. Of course, most hypocrites are not like that. Most of the time it’s a spirit-is-willing, flesh-is-weak sort of thing.”

“That we occasionally violate our own stated moral code,” Major Napier said, working it through, “does not imply that we are insincere in espousing that code.”

“Of course not,” Finkle-McGraw said. “It’s perfectly obvious, really. No one ever said that it was easy to hew to a strict code of conduct. Really, the difficulties involved—the missteps we make along the way—are what make it interesting. The internal, and eternal, struggle, between our base impulses and the rigorous demands of our own moral system is quintessentially human. It is how we conduct ourselves in that struggle that determines how we may in time be judged by a higher power.”

Neal Stephenson in  “The Diamond Age

A few questions about your startup’s culture:

  • Is there one set of rules that everyone strives to adhere to or are there different rules for founders than other employees or for different groups of employees (e.g. managers, engineers, ..)?
  • Do you have a lessons learned process that allows people to admit mistakes of judgement without punishment?
  • Do you espouse a code of conduct because it’s what investors or customers or employees want to hear, but you have not instituted mechanisms with teeth to monitor and enforce this conduct?

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