In 1961, Stanley Milgram recruited 500 men to take part in what they thought was a memory test. The participants were given the role of a ‘teacher’ and were assigned to teach a learner. However, each learner was actually an actor who was in on the real experiment. Each teacher was led to believe that the learner assigned to them was strapped to an electric shock machine in a different room. The teachers were then instructed by a man in a white lab coat to test the memory of that learner.
For each wrong answer, the teachers were told by the supervisor to press a button which would administer an electric shock to the learner. The voltage gradually increased from 15 volts to a known lethal 450 volts, during which the learner would scream and object. After the highest voltage, the learner fell silent. If the teacher hesitated, they were told by the supervisor to continue the experiment.
65% of participants administered what they believed to be a lethal dose of 450 volts.
The experiment was designed to test the extent to which instructions from authority can distance people from their integrity. As humans, we can justify anything to ourselves. We make up stories that make us feel OK about what we have done or will do, even if we know deep down that it’s wrong. Our brains have to in order to live with the decisions we make. From Hitler to Stalin, history proves that humans are capable of acts of unspeakable cruelty. As long as we tell ourselves a story to justify our actions, this cruelty will prosper.
We don’t have to be told by a person in white lab coat to do things against our integrity. The truth is, we can tell our own stories to justify any action to ourselves.
We should have clarification of our values and never cross the line. When you clarify and know what you stand for, you don’t have to justify anything to yourself. If you honour your integrity you will never have to navigate the gray area between right and wrong. You will not be able to knowingly lie or justify your actions to yourself.
There’s a perception in business that in order to be successful you have to be cut-throat, but a rebel entrepreneur will always look for win-win solutions. They value honesty, and put their hands up when they’ve made a mistake. People only lie because they’re afraid of the implications of telling the truth. A rebel entrepreneur doesn’t have this fear. They are confident in their ability to tell others exactly why they did something.