During a series of recent Dean's Convocations, students were told to be lean, leap at opportunities, and consider the benefits of lemon-scented Windex. They weren't advised to be physically fit custodians, but were being offered vocational insights from three very different convocation speakers.
Katie Liljenquist offered insight into how personal ethics can impact behavior on a subconscious level. Dr. Liljenquist is an assistant professor of organizational leadership and strategy at the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University. Her work has been quoted in the New York Times and published in the journal Science.
She initially majored in molecular biology at Arizona State University. While working with Robert Cialdini, a well-known social psychologist, she became interested in experimental behaviorism that led her to change her major to psychology.
Dr. Liljenquist, who did her graduate work at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, now studies the psychology of decision-making in the domain of ethics, power, impression management and counterfactual thinking. She focused her convocation presentation on her research demonstrating a link between physical cleanliness and ethical behavior.
"The idea of there being a relationship between physical and moral purity is not new," she said. "In virtually every major world religion, there are practices that are a very fundamental part of the religious ceremonies in which physical cleansing is asserted for moral purification."
Liljenquist said in one experiment researchers asked test subjects, who were being paid to participate, to write an account of something unethical they had done in the past. The test subjects were then asked if they were willing to volunteer to help out another researcher doing a different unrelated study. Some 70 percent were willing to help.
They asked another group of paid test subjects to do the same exercise, but suggested that they clean their hands with sanitation wipes before moving on to the next step of the research. The test subjects were then asked to volunteer their help to assist another researcher. They found that the test subjects who washed their hands with sanitation wipes were about 50 percent less likely than the others to volunteer their help when asked, she said.
"They don't feel guilty," Liljenquist said. "They don't feel a need to do a virtuous act of cleansing their conscience, because they already had a chance to cleanse their conscience through the hand wipes."
Another experiment demonstrated that people were more fair and generous when they were in a clean room. They even found that just the smell of lemon-scented Windex in a room subconsciously prompted people to be more fair and generous, Liljenquist said.
Liljenquist did not suggest that a simple hand-cleaning would undo a sense of personal culpability if there was a serious ethical misdeed involved. Her research suggests that, for many, physical cleanliness and ethical behavior are linked on a subconscious level.
September's convocation featured David Stowell, B.S. economics, '76, a professor from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. There he teaches classes that focus on investment banking, hedge funds and private equity.
He was a managing director at JP Morgan, responsible for the firm's mid-west investment banking business. At UBS he was managing director and co-head of U.S. Equity Capital Markets. At Goldman Sachs he managed an equity derivatives business in the New York office and worked in corporate finance, and mergers and acquisitions, in the Tokyo office. He was also a managing director at O'Connor Partners, where he developed new hedge fund projects, which were directed to corporations interested in fund raising and risk management.
Stowell said that during much of his career he has been in challenging situations where he faced a steep learning curve. He advised the students to put themselves into those type of situations, even though it may cause them anxiety at first.
"Don't let life creep at a petty pace," he said quoting a phrase from Shakespeare. "Leap. Jump. Move quickly. Control life, don't let it control you."
He said students should "network unceasingly," embrace change, and live by a strong ethical code.
In addition to teaching at Kellogg, Stowell also teaches classes at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business. Last fall he was awarded the Professional Achievement Award.
Jerry Bussell, the vice president of global operations for Medtronic ENT/NT, talked last fall about his experiences implementing the lean philosophy in business.
Lean is a philosophy taught by the Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence at the Huntsman School of Business. Bussell is chairman of the Shingo Prize Board of Governors. His company was recognized by IndustryWeek as one of the "Best Plants in North America in 2002." It was a recipient of the Shingo Prize in 2003.
Bussell advised the students to learn about lean while at USU, explaining that the demand for graduates who understand the philosophy is great.
"If you aren't learning this stuff, you are getting short changed with your education," he said. "You really are. In business, I don't want to do rework. I don't want to retrain people."
He talked about the success his company has had implementing lean principles.
"We are average people," he said, "but we were given a brilliant process and we got the results. . ."
He talked about the importance of having integrity, telling the students, "If you don't have integrity, you can't be a leader."
"It's complete honesty," he said. "It's not being honest some of the time; it's being honest all of the time. Integrity is really about keeping your commitments. It's telling the truth to yourself."