‘How’ Versus ‘How Much’

Accountability Authenticity Personal leadership


Key Point: “The more cashless our society becomes, the more our moral compass slips.” 

The above quote is based on solid research conducted by Dr. Dan Ariely, one of the world’s most respected behavioral economists. I work in the financial industry, and it is clear that we are rapidly going cashless (Apple Pay, etc.), so this conclusion is bothersome if not downright scary. In his book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone–Especially Ourselves, Dr. Ariely believes that cheating is contagious, and that a group’s behavior will have a powerful effect on each individual.

Two current and very popular television series (House of Cards and Billions) portray contagious behavior by all participants in spades. The overall theme is that “the end justifies the means” and that “greatness” is determined by achieving “how much” at any cost, instead of honoring “how” the end is achieved. Ariely’s work points out: “We all want explanations for why we behave as we do and for the ways the world around us functions. Even when our feeble explanations have little to do with reality. We’re storytelling creatures by nature, and we tell ourselves story after story until we come up with an explanation that we like and that sounds reasonable enough to believe. And when the story portrays us in a more glowing and positive light, so much the better.”

In a very relevant HBR article by Dov Seidman, he stresses the importance of reframing greatness from the how much definition to the how“How do we conduct ourselves in life and business? (Do we act fairly? Do we treat our colleagues, customers, and community with respect)? How do we sustain success so it lasts for decades, not just fiscal quarters? How can we all work together to build something greater than ourselves?”

Seidman says, “It’s in how that we should find our inspiration for greatness. And this is not idealistic: The individuals, organizations, and even countries that end up consistently winning over the long term are those in the grip of how, a far bigger idea than how much.”

Maybe Seidman’s viewpoint needs to connect with Ariely’s conclusive comment:  “Acts of honesty are incredibly important for our sense of social morality. And although they are unlikely to make the same sensational news, if we understand social contagion, we must also recognize the importance of publicly promoting outstanding moral acts.” 

Character Moves:

  1. We need to constantly challenge ourselves to emphasis that the “how” is ultimately more important than the “how much.” The workplace is a living daily laboratory for emphasizing and celebrating the “how.”
  1. As imperfect beings, we have to be on guard for the social contagion that convinces us the end justifies the means. It is so easy to tell ourselves it’s “ok” when we know darn well it’s not. 

“How” in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: I work in media, and I know for a fact that we’re not helping to fix this. And we never will. Ariely’s above comment, “and although they are unlikely to make the same sensational news,” blew up at me, because it’s the absolute truth. Sorry, “how” just doesn’t get advertisers buying like a “how much” story does. But don’t sleep on the general public, because they know when a “how much” story becomes loathsome. Eventually, a genuine “how” becomes the true subject worth reporting about and learning from. “How” will never be breaking news, but do you want the instant cover page? Or do you want to one day be featured as someone who did it right?

– Garrett