Saturday, February 26, 2011

How to Apply an Engineering Method to Solve Ethical Problems (3)

An Engineering Strategy for Solving Complex Ethical Problems

Everyday life ethical issues are clear and simple and solved by intuitive use of ethical theories. Complex ethical problems can be more challenging.

Various types of professionals, including engineers, often express significant differences of opinion when faced with cases requiring an ethical solution. Engineers should have an advantage in resolving ethical dilemmas, since problem-solving and decision making techniques are a routine part of engineering.

Being an engineer, I’d like to provide a framework for reconciling differences of opinion as we address the question, “what is the right thing to do?” in circumstances involving ethical issues in the engineering profession.

The problem solving method developed here is from the book What Every Engineer Should Know About Ethics, by Kenneth K. Humphreys (4)

The problem solving model developed here involves five steps. It is a systematic approach to moral deliberation that is designed for groups of individuals, but can be used by individuals with some minor adjustments. This figure illustrates the steps of this model.

1. State the Problem 
  • Clearly define exact nature of ethical problem or dilemma. 
  • Need to be clear so that we can anticipate the kind of solution that is required. 
  • Want to provide an answer that is relevant to the interests at stake. 

2. Get the Facts 
  • Want to make an informed decision. 
  • Must possess and understand the relevant facts. 
  • Must make clear any interpretations of factual matters or the values than underlie conflicting moral viewpoints.

3. Identify & Defend Competing Moral Viewpoints
  • Critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of competing moral viewpoints. 
  • Begin by identifying what we believe to be the most compelling reason for the course of action. 
  • We must be able to justify the course of action. 

4. Formulate Opinions
  • As engineers we do not have the luxury of postponing questions or leaving a question unresolved. 
  • Decide which of the compelling viewpoints is the most compelling. 
  • The committee approach (voting) is advantageous because the decision is representative of the general public. 

5. Qualify Recommendations
  • Committees must qualify the recommendations they make by describing the level of consensus that was received. 
  • Should include the voting distribution and any dissenting opinions. 

The strategy described above is rather a formal process that would be followed in detail only for very complex cases. However, this strategy may be useful when a professional is stuck for a solution to a simpler problem.

In these circumstances, it is reassuring to know that many of the well-known methods of engineering – problem solving, generation of creative ideas, and decision making – can be applied to solve ethical problems as well.

(1) “Complete Guide to Ethics Management: An Ethics Toolkit for Managers” - Written by Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC. Copyright 1997-2008.
(3) Moral Leadership
(4) “What Every Engineer Should Know About Ethics” Witten by Kenneth K. Humphreys

How to Apply an Engineering Method to Solve Ethical Problems (2)

What is ethics?

Some people will say "Ethics is simply to do what's right" or saying just “do good”. This myth was explained to me by one of the founder members of the Association of Romanian Engineers in Canada and during the last years I had to discuss and exemplify it with many newcomer engineers from Romania.

Ethics involves learning what is right or wrong, and then doing the right thing -- but "the right thing" is not nearly as straightforward as conveyed.

Some times many engineers may believe ethics is irrelevant because in business we cannot talk of ethics and training in ethics may avoid the real-to-life complexities in leading organizations.

We may consider ethics to be the "Science of Conduct.” Ethics includes the fundamental ground rules by which we live our lives. Philosophers such as Socrates and Plato have given guidelines for ethical behaviour.

Definition of Ethics

Ethics – the study of right and wrong, good and evil, obligations and rights, justice, and social and political ideas – is one of the four branches of philosophy, according to The Canadian Encyclopedia Plus.

The concept has come to mean various things to various people, but generally in the context of organizations coming to know what is right or wrong in the workplace and doing what's right -- this is in regard to effects of products/services and in relationships with stakeholders.

Leaders help to set the tone, develop the vision, and shape the behaviour of all those involved in organizational life.

“The critical point to understand here is that, like it or not, business and politics serve as the metronome for our society. And the meter and behavior established by leaders set the patterns and establish the models for our behavior as individuals and as a group. Although the terms "business ethics" and "moral leadership" are technically distinguishable, in fact, they are inseparable components in the life of every organization.” (1)

As a student of business ethics, I am convinced that without the continuous commitment, enforcement, and modeling of leadership, standards of business ethics cannot be achieved in any organization.

Friday, February 18, 2011

How to Apply an Engineering Method to Solve Ethical Problems (1)

If you've read this blog for a while, you already know that I like to use my engineering background to point your attention to general concepts. Even if you're not an engineer, i am confident you will benefit from it.

Today, I will start a series of postings demonstrating the use of one of the well-known methods of engineering, which can be applied to solve ethical problems as well.


Coming to Canada as an immigrant engineer educated and trained in another country, I was faced to many career choices. I could choose to join a small firm or a multinational organization, to be an entrepreneur or even to change the path of my career for another domain. Each of these opportunities operates in business environment that is totally different from the place I was coming from.

However, first of most I had to understand the new culture and the ethics of the business. Soon I understood that organizations have no more stable environment, and I had to answer many dilemmas.

A simple example is should I leave present employer and go for better salary and benefits. If I stay here, what is the guarantee that I will be offered continued employment?  The course on ethics in faculty didn't provide any yes or no answers to these questions. It helped me to understand my inside compass on guiding me to take appropriate decisions.

If we examine the current literature on ethics, the focus is on guidelines given by philosophers, academics and social critics. However, leaders, managers and engineers require more practical information about managing ethics.

"Managing ethics in the workplace holds tremendous benefit to all including engineers, managers, organization and society. This is particularly true today when it is critical to understand and manage highly diverse groups, with different values in the workplace and operating in globalized economic conditions." (1)

What is ethics?
(will follow)

(1) "Complete Guide to Ethics Management: An Ethics Toolkit for Managers" - written by Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC., Copyright 1997-2008.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Ten Winning People-Trends Of 2011 & What They Mean To You by Mike Lipkin

We're almost at the fifty-day mark of 2011. In dog years, an entire year has already passed. It’s been epic. The climate is changing dramatically, both physically and metaphysically. As Elisabeth Rosenthal asks in the February 13 issue of the New York Times: "What happens when 100 year storms are seen every 10 years, and 10 year storms become regular events? How many structures will reach their limits?"...

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Bold Guide to a Fast Track Career

I just read the above post, which I thought I will share with you. The recipe is a 3-steps, easy to put you up to speed if you want a fast track career.

Read here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

News You Can Use - "Welcome to Ontario" goes mobile

The Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration of the Government of Ontario launched the mobile version of the popular “Welcome to Ontario” newcomer guide for smartphones. You can check it out at

The mobile version includes a link to “Settlement.Org. The original “Welcome to Ontario” booklet is available in PDF in 17 languages on our main website.

Additional Information: