Business Ethics #4 Keeping up with business

Greetings heroes!

As we mentioned in the last post, there are three ethical options for superheroes trying to succeed in business.  The first is attempting to keep up as best as possible, obeying the rules and conventions.  Unfortunately, there aren’t many superheroes who own their own business (Iron Man and Batman being notable exceptions), and those that do don’t seem to face this problem all that often.

This site also accuses them of being the same plot line. They have a bit of a point...

Before providing illustrations, a little background first:

First and foremost, a business will not succeed if its competitors can do the same business for less money.  As a business acquires more advanced equipment, technology, and/or knowledge, it is better able to compete with and/or surpass other businesses.  To put it another way: Batman can fight the Joker, no problem.  But if Doomsday shows up, Batman needs to run.

And that’s how businesses work.  OK, more elaboration is needed:

Businesses can’t succeed if they can’t compete.  And they can’t compete if they don’t keep up with the labor saving methods and the products which their customers demand.  For example, knives used to be made by blacksmiths.  But if you open up a blacksmiths shop today, you’d never succeed because there is better technology for making knives.  In another example, there isn’t much point in opening a gramophone factory for what I hope are obvious reasons.

If these examples are a little ridiculous, allow me to state a current example: Kodak, the company which practically defined the camera, recently filed for bankruptcy.  The reason was simple: despite having invented and developed the digital camera, Kodak didn’t push its digital camera line because it would cut into its sale of film.  Here’s the story.  To put this into perspective, that would be like Apple deciding not to sell the iPad because it would cut into its iMac sales (does anyone even remember the iMac?).  Or, since this is a superheroes article, it would be like Aunt May trying to fight Doctor Octopus.  If the problem is Doctor Octopus, you need Spider Man.  If you’re afraid a fantastic new product is going to replace photographic film, you don’t double down on film!

For you as a superhero, this reminds us that we need an ability before we can use it ethically.  And if your ability isn’t strong enough, you have three options: make your ability better, use it more effectively, or quit.  And yes, if what you are doing doesn’t work at a cost of great effort on your part, you should quit and try something else.

And yes, there is a comic about teen heroes who retire called The Loners.

But if faced with a foe you can’t beat with your current set of abilities, you should upgrade.  For example, when outgunned by a Norse demon in the Fear Itself series, Tony Stark went to Asgard itself and pointed out that, as a weapon designer, all he needed was a good workshop.  By utilizing his skill set, Tony upgraded his allies’ weapons, thus evening the odds.

Need a real life story?  OK, how about when the Vatican realized that its congregants were moving online, it followed.  Or, in order to compete politically, nonprofits set up their own PAC (note: I found this link thanks to blogger Tom Simcoe at Almshouse.  He expresses concern over this development) (note #2- in the interests of full disclosure, I work for a non-profit).

There is an ethical point in all this: as long as you are a superhero (or a business owner), your ethical responsibilities include an effort to keep up with the technology that allows you to do your work effectively.  This does not mean you bankrupt your business, or change your business to an illegal one, or modify your powers in an unethical way.  But as a business owner, you have a responsibility to the people who count on your services, your employees, and to the people who count on you like your family, friends, and the charities you support to keep your business up to date and competitive.  This may include keeping up with societal ethics too, because:

 As such professions grapple with expanding their codes of responsibility to keep up with technological advances and societal pressures for stricter business ethics, changes in laws governing business ethics are bound to change too. Since societal ethics has evolved through the law, it mirrors the ethical norms agreed on by the majority.


There is another ethical responsibility here as well, and that is the responsibility to ensure your own technological process is used wisely.  Since, by definition, technology will outpace the law written about it, the developer of the technology should take part in controlling it.  So when Iron Man discovered his foes had acquired suits of armor and were using them for nefarious purposes,  he did the responsible thing: he blew them up.

Thus superheroes, advance your powers, but use them responsibly.

Next time, using your powers, but trickier!  Going insurgent!

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  • Tom Simcoe  On March 23, 2012 at 1:41 am

    What can I say – you’ve got an archived discussion of Joseph Campbell and a link to a tumblr of batman and robin running away from stuff. What more can we ask? Unexpected, awesome, thoughtful work.

    I have an I Mac, by the way, and it is kind of dusty. I also have a Mac classic somewhere. The consumer ethics of having all this Apple stuff trouble me, but I’m not sure it’s possible to get an untainted computer.

    Here’s looking forward to more posts.

    • superherosguide  On March 23, 2012 at 9:59 am

      Thanks Tom, always a pleasure. I always love mooching off your hard work :). Seriously, though, your post gave me that extra little piece of information I needed to complete this, thanks.

      Yeah, I don’t know what to say about the whole Apple thing, especially now that the story as a whole has been brought into doubt. We know there are problems at the Foxcon factory (as evidenced by the number of suicides), but its now hard to say exactly what those problems are. Making a call based on incomplete information is hard.

      That said, you bring up a great topic that I haven’t figured out quite how to tackle. What do you do when you need something to function in society, but the only way to obtain that thing is to acquire it from a less than above board source? A computer or a smart phone is a great example of this. Another would be an engagement ring.

      Anyways, thanks for the comment, and keep posting. And my admiration at attempting a Lenten beard- Lent is a full 1/9 of the year, and much harder than it looks at the onset!

      • Tom Simcoe  On March 24, 2012 at 6:26 pm

        How true, your last point… Fortunately I also gave up some other stuff, so I’m not completely demoralized.

        And with Apple, the touch screen has been a revolution for disabled-access technology. You can buy an Iphone or itouch today for $200, along with an app for another $200, which accomplishes what a $10k specialty vocalization computer was required for just three years ago. This is nothing short of miraculous. How do you balance the moral consequences?

        I look forward to your discussion of this topic.


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