Don't Ouroboros Yourself

By | Thursday, March 31, 2011 Leave a Comment
When I was working on my MBA, I had to take a class on business ethics. This was not long after the Enron scandal and there was a pervading concern that business students simply weren't being taught about ethical behavior. Hence, all business students now had to take this class.

One of the things the professor brought to the class was a model for measuring how ethical a company was. You were supposed to rate companies along four major categories, and that got mapped out against a circle divided into quadrants. My first questions were, "Well, how are we actually supposed to rate these categories? What sort of value scale should we be using?" His answer was that zero represented the absolute worst possible set of ethics a company could have in that category, and a four was the absolute best possible... and everything else sort of fell in between somewhere. Based on the individual's value judgement. Irrespective of whatever knowledge they actually had of the company.

I was astounded; this was absolute garbage. He was placing fairly arbitrary and ill-defined limits on the scale in the first place, there was no real value criteria for rankings between those limits, and none of that really mattered anyway since people were just making a relatively uninformed value judgement anyway. "I rate this company a 3 because... well, they're better than some places I've heard about."

I kept questioning the professor, in various ways, on how this made any sense and what use might it actually be. He had broad answers that never really addressed my specific questions, and passed out to the class photocopies of some professional journal article that explained the system in elaborate detail. I noticed immediately that the article was written by the professor himself.

As I read through the piece, other articles were cited, as one would expect in a journal of that nature. But when I scanned through the bibliography, all of the cited articles that actually referred in any way to this ethics model were ALSO written or co-written by the professor. So I started doing some more research on my own, going through journal databases through the school library system. I could not find any references in any other articles anywhere to this model, nor could I find any articles that cited any of the professor's articles in any capacity at all.

I eventually took some of this to my brother-in-law. He was actually an undergraduate business professor at another university. He had never heard of the model or the professor, and shared my belief that this model wasn't worth anything.

The issue wasn't that the professor had a bad idea. We all have bad ideas. The issue wasn't that he was sharing his bad idea with other people, not really realizing it was a bad idea. That happens to everyone at some point. The problem this professor had was that he had so insulated himself from outside thoughts and was so enamored with his idea that he was unable to hear anything else. His field of vision was almost entirely self-referential.

I bring this up because a lot of would-be comic creators look towards comics for inspiration. If they want to draw or write Spider-Man comics, they look at Spider-Man comics and nothing else. Outside influences might be the FF or Avengers books when Spider-Man shows up there. Or maybe the Spider-Man movies or cartoons.

Now, I really hope you've heard this before and you're bored out of your skull from hearing it yet again. But try to draw in as many different ideas as possible from as wide a set of sources as possible. Don't just look at comics. Don't just look at pop culture/mass media. Looks at Egyptian heiroglyphs and Greek statues and listen to some Native American folk tales and watch a bunraku performance and try to sort through a Mummenschanz show...

Got all that? It sounds kind of trite, but try to make a point to take in ideas you wouldn't normally. Force yourself through a book that you don't think is written well. Watch a movie in a genre you don't normally like. I'm not saying to give up the ones you enjoy, certainly, but just don't limit yourself. Take in everything you can, and use ALL of that to inform your work.
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