Practical insights for compliance and ethics professionals and commentary on the intersection of compliance and culture.

Compliance in Arrested Development

Check out the below clips from the cult classic television show Arrested Development.  Given that much of the show is devoted to dealing with the fallout from the family’s business operating fraudulently for many years, it should be no real surprise that there are many themes of compliance and ethics that recur throughout the show.


Selected Dirty Money episodes for corporate compliance

Dirty Money is a documentary series that premiered on Netflix in January 2018.  The series focuses on different case studies of corporate corruption.  The documentaries delve into the political and cultural causes behind the key events in each case, motivations of the individuals involved, and the way that society has been impacted by these situations, some of which remain under investigation or legal challenge.  While all the episodes are interesting to study for general themes of corporate compliance and/or ethical culture and organizational integrity, four of the episodes are especially relevant.


Selected TED/TEDx talks on the ethics of right and wrong

Traditional discussions of morality have often focused on dichotomies of good and bad, virtuous and evil, right and wrong.  This polarized thinking simplifies the world into opposing absolutes.  In this view, all people and all conduct stand on one side or other of an imaginary line.  Bad people are responsible for all evil actions and wrong decisions, whereas good people should always be expected to behave in a virtuous manner and to make the right choices.  This views resigns any hope of someone who is judged “bad” making positive contributions to the world or being expected to have integrity; these people must be controlled against, excluded, and blamed when events take the wrong turn.  Good people, on the other hand, are subject to straying from their presumably natural interest in behaving with integrity and must be prevented from doing so and punished if this ever happens, followed by being re-judged as bad if they do not respond to punitive and remedial treatment.

The limiting and unrealistic expectations of such a system are clear.  In practice, this retrograde view can have chilling effect on a truly progressive understanding of organizational integrity and dynamics or any true restorative justice for individuals.  Unfortunately, rules-based systems tend to produce these polarized, inflexible views.  Mandatory compliance with its roles and responsibilities and reliance on policies and procedures can have such an outcome.  Of course, the law, internal requirements, and regulatory expectations often do follow a bright line and so adherence to these expectations is as straightforward as a yes or a no.  However, this strict structure must be supported by a more dynamic and realistic system of values and principles.  Only then can the culture of compliance reflect the true nature of people and their choices and actions, which are all much more complex than a choice between two contrasting modes.


Selected TED/TEDx talks on privacy and reputation

In an increasingly inter-connected and digital society, challenges to privacy and reputation are frequent.  Even before social media put everyone at constant pressure to “overshare,” when people’s very personal details were not always a quick Google search away, privacy was still under threat.  A person’s visibility and public representations are often judged and demanded for credibility and honesty evaluations performed by employers, potential partners, members of the community, and even complete strangers.  Giving up privacy in favor of radical openness may be the way some reality stars have attained their celebrity, but for many people this feels invasive and like a violation of security.

In a broader sense, people’s individual privacy settings in terms of what they wish to share or disclose, how, and to whom, have a direct bearing on reputation.  Cultural practices around privacy and information sharing can give rise to serious reputational risk that impacts individuals and communities and frays the social fabric in which transparency is desirable or even possible.  These norms and ethical expectations are intensified in the digital age, where an individual’s personal information can never truly be deleted or taken back once it is made public.


Compliance and ethics in Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is a classic comedy film from 1993.  The movie centers around Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors, who is a weatherman on-location in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania covering the annual Groundhog Day event there.  The town’s festivities around the ritual of the groundhog coming out of his hole to check whether or not he sees his shadow are a huge media event and popular celebration which Connors, who is generally obnoxious and condescending, finds ridiculous.  On February 2, Connors has an unpleasant and miserable day in which he is annoyed by everyone around him, acts out, and totally fails to charm his producer Rita Hanson, played by Andie McDowell, with whom he is in unrequited love.  The next day he wakes up and is alarmed and confused to find that it is not a new day and February 3, but rather it is February 2 again and the prior day is repeating exactly as it happened before.

Connors winds up trapped in a time loop in which only he is lucid of it.  He experiences February 2 over and over, with his memory and knowledge retained but otherwise no evidence in the world or other people that the day has happened before and will happen again.  Connors goes through a complicated process of reckoning with this reality and ultimately makes an ambition of getting Hanson, who hates him, to fall in love with him.


Justice in Black Mirror

As previously discussed on this blog, the universe of the science fiction show Black Mirror is very interesting from a compliance and ethics perspective.  As discussed in this post about the first three series of the show and this post about the fourth series, the show often focuses on connections between humanity and technology.  The show frequently contemplates the negative impact of excessive or dangerous reliance on technology and warns of the disruptions to people and communities that could result from overly integrating advanced technology into life.

While the most common themes of Black Mirror indeed pertain to traditional risks of overuse of technology, such as data privacy, consent, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity, there’s an additional layer of commentary on the show which focuses on broader social issues, such as power, community, and justice.  Indeed, the question of how a technologically-advanced society might define and handle justice uniquely is compelling.  Portrayals of justice throughout all four series of Black Mirror include the treatment of issues such as punishment, reparations, confessions, investigations, judgment, and surveillance. 


Compliance in Black Mirror Series 4

Black Mirror’s fourth season continues the themes of the previous three series of the show.  As discussed in this post, the show makes often uncanny connections between human life and technology, frequently covering the ways in which social media, AI, biometric devices, and other advanced technological systems and devices affect and change society.  What makes Black Mirror so effective, and often so disturbing, is that in each of the anthologized stories it contains not only a vision of the future but also a warning about the disruptions that would happen to people along the way.  The reality depicted in Black Mirror is like an amped-up version of the world that seems to be already nearly within reach, with technological advancements abound to make life easier or more entertaining.  However, the point of view in the show is markedly dystopian, forcing viewers to consider the addictive or even dangerous influence that immersive technologies could have.


Selected TED/TEDx talks on integrity

Integrity as both a personal and an organizational value is one of the central and recurring themes of this blog. Promoting and supporting integrity in individuals as well as in the groups in which they live and work is essential to encouraging cultures of compliance and ethical decision-making. Indeed, the foundation of the moral conduct people wish to see in each other and in their institutions in order to enhance the stature of truth and honesty in today’s complicated, interconnected world starts with placing personal emphasis on integrity and character ethic. With a strong and well-articulated individual commitment to moral engagement, people can purposefully contribute to the integrity of the communities in which they live, the groups in which they gather, and the organizations in which they work.

  • Aligning integrity with identity (Lester Tanaka) – Commitment to any character ethic value must be authentic. A person cannot decide to have integrity without actually embracing the honesty, judgment, fairness, transparency, and credibility that goes along with possessing this trait. Claiming to have it, without actually genuinely imbedding it, goes against the grain of the entire concept of integrity itself. Therefore individuals must, as Lester Tanaka suggests, make concrete and meaningful for themselves the interrelationship between the mental and the moral. A person’s identity should be aligned with and connected to the value of integrity and their intention to live with it. Therefore, all the other traits for which an individual has an affinity should be consistent with the goal of integrity. Self-examination and self-reflection will be both necessary to identify these corresponding characteristics as well as important for thoughtful and organic personal integrity.



  • Integrity as a currency for leadership (Barth Nnaji) – Integrity is also a core value for leadership. When faced with opposition or adversity, challenge or doubt, ethical leaders can always rely upon their integrity to represent themselves as credible, rise above the fray, and maintain a firm grip on ethical standards for decision-making and conduct. One of the differences between a manager and an ethical leader is, in fact, this commitment to their sense of integrity and the feeling of a strong responsibility to resist negative temptation or becoming overwhelmed by the magnitude of their tasks. True leaders stick to their own values and indeed promote their own integrity as the “currency” needed to get things done in collaboration with other people and organizations. Leaders who consider their reputations as one of their main assets would seek to protect the way they are seen by others by staying true to the expectations for their credibility and reliability. This way, people who lead with integrity become people with whom others wish to be associated, compared, and involved.



  • Building integrity – keeping promises (Erick Rainey) – Establishing integrity does not have to be an academic or theoretical challenge with abstract and lofty metrics by which its success is measured. Having integrity is as simple as keeping promises. Walking the walk, taking responsibility, and following through are simple but incredibly impactful actions which, when repeated, establish a pattern of integrity and worthiness of trust and reliance. This goes for individuals as well as for organizations. Delivering on commitments or being honest and transparent about it when it’s not possible to do so puts the value of integrity into powerful action.



  • Integrity and authenticity don’t make you trustworthy (Struan Robertson) – As noted in this earlier post, expectations for and ideas about trust, honesty, and the truth are all being transformed by today’s digital society. Shifting moral evaluations and perceptions of what is or is not true too often promote a convincing and compelling brand of dishonesty over difficult or complicated truth. In this environment there are many complex factors against true credibility and integrity. Simply appearing to be “good” or wanting to identify others as “evil” is not sufficient. Being relied upon is also not the same as being trusted or trustworthy.   As discussed above, commitment to integrity has to be both authentic and practical. An individual and all the individuals which make up organizations have to have an organic, real commitment to integrity in order to truly act with it, rather than to just pretend or attempt at it.


  • Integrity and the Life of the Planet (Zale Zeviar) – Apart from the integrity of individuals in both private life and the work place, corporate integrity is so important in society’s attempts to solve huge challenges, such as making environmentally-friendly consumer choices. The transparency and openness that acting with integrity and moral certitude can bring is also applicable to business core values. Accountability for earth-friendly business practices and products is just one expression of corporate social responsibility that exhibits business integrity. Small changes by consumers can be enabled by community and business values which can help the whole system to aspire to a higher level of integrity. This “corporate consciousness” is an active expression of integrity that spreads, aligning all the players in the chain universally around integrity as the common theme.

As shown above, defining integrity as a core value in all areas of life – self-identification, leadership, relationships with others, community engagement, social responsibility – is a powerful, purpose-driven approach. A commitment to recognizing integrity as a virtue and using a strong internal sense of its importance for one’s personal moral code enables individuals to be credible and responsible and to model these values to each other. With time, institutions and organizations will reflect the integrity promoted by the individuals within them, elevating the ethical register of society.