If a Tree Falls in a Forest…

Trees in ForestTo complete that famous question… ‘If a Tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it actually make a sound?’ Although this is a philosophical question regarding the nature of reality and whether it actually exists without the existence of the observer to witness and judge the event, I would like to hijack that question and move it to another context that I believe concerns us all…

For example… What if you had inside knowledge of a looming takeover which would quadruple the shares of a target company, and you had the opportunity and the funds to purchase a major shareholding in that company two days before the takeover bid was about to be announced, would you do it? What if you could do it with no chance of your insider trading ever being discovered?

Or… If, while parking late at night, you slightly scrape the side of a Lamborghini; and the damage is significant enough to require repair but just below the $500 excess which means the owner would have to pay for the damage personally, would you leave a note with your contact details? What if you were positive that no one else witnessed the event?

Or… What if your bank account suddenly received a deposit of $500,000 through a banking error and it didn’t get reversed out of your account after a week, would you draw out the funds and close the account? What if you were a highly skilled IT professional who was 100% certain that there was zero chance of the error ever being discovered as having been deposited in your favour, either now or in the future?

Or… What if you were to discover immediately after exiting a restaurant that you had just received $20 more in change than you were due and you knew the error would go unnoticed, would you walk back inside and correct the error? What if you also knew that the friendly waiter who served you all night and who made the error would not be held accountable for the discrepancy?

And finally… What if you had access to performance enhancing substances that would give you an unfair advantage over your competition and lead to you winning public accolades for all of your years of toil, followed by financial rewards that would set you up for life, would you go ahead and take the chance? What if you were 100% certain that your use of them would go undetected by both current and future testing regimes?

Whether the temptation is large or small, I feel the question remains the same…. what would you do?

Unfortunately this is the revelation we seem to be faced with every day in our media, particularly in the realm of elite sport, whether it be athletics, or cycling, or even our beloved football code here in Australia. It is amazing how quickly once revered sports people and respected sports administrators are rushing to retirement and resignation; declarations of shame and sorrow; belated feelings of guilt and conscience and new-found honesty, the moment that someone has finally uncovered their previous acts of folly. And it isn’t confined to our sports brethren either, if the latest discoveries of political rorting of expenses; developers doing secret deals with elected officials; dodgy business practices being revealed; governments eavesdropping on our electronic communications; church hierarchy cover-ups; law-breaking journalists and the cult of leadership with a ‘win at all costs’ brand of politics are to be considered.

‘Where does it all end?’ I feel compelled to ask, especially given I am not describing the social and political environment existing within failed societies where the rule of law has broken down. I am talking about the UK and Europe; North America and good old ‘true blue – dinky di’ Australia.

Gold MedalsHas our headlong pursuit of winning at all costs and the accompanying fame and celebrity and financial riches that go with it become the new religion… the altar at which we now worship? Are the new heroes we admire today only those people who stand on the winner’s dais, or make the most money or accumulate the most prizes… as if winning was the single most important factor in the definition of success? If so, I propose that we start re-examining our understanding of the meaning of success before it redefines us and our society.

My late father once said to me as a young boy… “Whatever you do in life Brian, do your best and enjoy doing it. If you want to be a street sweeper… be the best damn street sweeper you can be and find enjoyment in doing it every day so that each night you can come home to a family whom you love and cherish, happy in the knowledge that they are a witness to what you say, what you do, and who you are. Let the contribution you make at whatever level in life, be one you can look back on with pride and a clear conscience that leads to self respect.”

I openly admit there have been times in my past when I have been tempted to take short cuts on the way to achievements and as I look back on those moments I realise that it didn’t matter whether they were major or minor opportunities to gain an unfair advantage while going unnoticed in the process, ultimately it was all the same. Every opportunity that was presented to me was another a chance to grow in character or to chip away at my sense of self worth little by little, until I would no longer be the person I could believe in. I wish I could say that I always chose the right path, but if I am to be honest with myself, with some of the smaller indiscretions, that was not the case every single time. In hindsight I might have made different choices knowing what I know today, but luckily those minor indiscretions have been very few, so for that I am thankful… although interestingly, I still remember them to this day.

Perhaps the only battle worth winning in life is the battle between character versus compromise when one’s personal integrity is at stake. Whether we believe in the law of Karma, or the judgment of our Creator; or just good old fashioned conscience with a capital ‘C,’ maybe these are the disciplines worth teaching in our schools if they are no longer being passed on in our homes and our sporting clubs or our local communities. Maybe the teaching of knowledge and skill and the emphasis being placed on personal achievement needs a healthy dose of ethics, and integrity and the pursuit of inner wisdom, to balance the ledger.

This is a touchy subject I know, and one which I hope you will turn your mind to as you reflect on the times in your life when you could have chosen a more self affirming course of action, especially if it was one of those times when whatever course you chose would go unnoticed by others. And hopefully too, it will cause you to think of the example you set for those you hold dear in your life from this point on. It’s a thought I ponder on when I hear yet another example of celebrated heroes who have fallen short, and it reminds me that if I don’t like the world I see and what it is becoming, then the change has to start with me, not them. Do you agree with me?

If there was one piece of advice I could share the next time any of us is faced with the temptation of gaining an unfair and undisclosed advantage in our lives, it would be this… “Would the action I am about to take today stand up to scrutiny in the front page of the national daily newspaper tomorrow?” If not, then maybe it is incumbent upon me to think long and hard before choosing to proceed.

Obviously if some of our previously admired sporting, political, religious and business leaders had lived according to this personal rule, we would not be confronted daily with these revelations about those whom we once held in high esteem.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, especially given that moral dilemmas such as these aren’t always just viewed in black or white.

Drop me an email to brian@precisionprofiling.com.au if you would like to discuss further the amazing power of promoting values-driven leadership within your organisation.

Until then… Let’s seek to understand more and judge less. Have a great week – Brian

Precision ProfilingWhat Makes You Tick? Through ‘Motivational Fingerprinting’ we uncover what you do, how you do it and why you do it, and most importantly, the hidden patterns that lead to your success, and that of your team.


About Brian Clark

Brian Clark is the principal director of Precision Profiling®.

He is a renowned practitioner, writer and speaker on building total customer cultures; values driven leadership and world best practice strategy and implementation.

He has been a guest lecturer on world best practice for the executive management programme at Monash University’s business college (Mt Eliza campus); an adviser to and key note speaker for the Singapore Productivity Association and a consultant to many major Australian and overseas corporations and government departments.

Read more about Brian Clark Here


  1. Hi Brian – Thank you for a thoughtful article. One of the areas I work in is Public Relations which continually opines that it is the discipline ‘responsible’ for reputation, yet it has very little to say about values. (I think PR’s idea of building a good reputation is to ‘manage’ information traffic so that only the positive stuff reaches its destination). I believe our current crisis of confidence in leadership is systemic. There will always be people who cheat, regardless. But most of the time, I believe, people’s behaviours are heavily skewed by their environment. In the UK health service, for example, a complex framework of targets and punishments has led otherwise honest people to game the system to avoid the social disgrace of failure. Of course, occasionally their house of cards collapses and they are put in the media ‘stocks’ to be humiliated. They are torn by conflicting motivations and, as most of us are hard-wired to ‘fit in’ to social groups, they tend to want to live up to social norms rather than to stand out as individuals where the spotlight can become a searchlight. My fear is that ‘values’ become devalued as people buy the label without truly examining their moral behaviour.

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