These past couple of weeks have been a blur of visual and audio stimuli for me – most of which I have reacted to with some kind of high pitched variation on, “Really?! Are you freakin’ serious?! Someone really thinks that commercial / outfit / public comment / behavior is appropriate / safe / smart?!”
My hubby and I went to Las Vegas for a long weekend. Like LA, Vegas is great for the free entertainment walking up and down the Strip. I repeatedly think (often out loud), “Sooo, that person looked in the mirror this morning and thought to her / himself, dang, I look awesome.” This is quickly followed by the question, “What was / is that person thinking wearing that in public?!”
Then there were some of the sketchier ads during the Super Bowl (I’m not commenting on the singing of the national anthem or halftime entertainment, which are topics for a future talent and performance management post). The dude licking the Dorito cheese powder off of a co-worker’s fingers and pants – okay, ewwww. I fully expect to hear about a few employee relations issues in which someone thinks it would be funny to recreate that little scene in the workplace. Again, ewwwww.
Then there is the New Chevy Cruze with Facebook status checking via onStar or whatever. As if teenage drivers aren’t distracted enough already. Seriously, I am going to be thinking twice about driving on the LA freeways now (thank goodness my office is 5 feet from my kitchen).
But I think what kicked off my latest obsession with professional and personal decorum are the Ladders television ads. (Oh yes, I am wading into this morass). I tweeted / posted to Facebook a comment about how inappropriate I think those ads are. A friend of mine, also offended by the ads, actually wrote to the Ladders to give them a piece of her mind. Here is their response:
Thanks for writing in.
I apologize if you dislike our commercial and find it inappropriate. I assure you that is not our intention.
Here at TheLadders.com, we want every job seeker to view us as a partner who can assist them in showcasing their skills and background to prospective $100k employers. To that effect, the message in our commercial was meant to creatively portray the confidence – or “attractiveness” – we want our job seekers to experience after working with us.
I hope this helps to clarify our message. Again, thank you for your feedback. I’ve passed your thoughts along to the rest of our team.
In thinking about this, and also about some of the posts / commentary about the Ladders on FOT, I have been pondering the pushing of the creative envelope in areas often not pushed (Monster.com and CareerBuilder have had some fun ads in the past, but I don’t know that I would say those ads have pushed boundaries. The Ladders ads obliterate boundaries, and not, I think, in a good way). And I have been trying to figure out the thought processes people go through to reach the conclusion that it’s okay for them to push societal, professional, ethical, etc., boundaries in not so good ways.
Thank goodness for academics, as an abstract posted at Harvard Business School Working Knowledge provided some insight. In “The Dark Side of Creativity: Original Thinkers Can Be More Dishonest”, authors Francesca Gino and Dan Ariely report on the results of five separate studies in which they test the hypothesis that “a creative personality and creativity primes individuals’ motivation to think outside the box and that this increased motivation leads to unethical behavior”. The authors found evidence of an association between creativity and “moral flexibility”.
Let me clarify something here. I am not saying that the Ladders ads (and the other questionable behaviors and fashion choices I have witnessed of late) are in any way dishonest, unethical, or even “morally flexible”. I am saying that this study helps me to answer the question that bounds around my skull like a ping pong ball: What WERE they THINKING?! Because I honestly have difficulty understanding how reasonable, thoughtful human beings who walk the same earth I do not only come up with some of this stuff, but also believe that unleashing this unabashed creativity on the rest of us is a good idea. And now I may begin to understand – for some reason, creativity in abundance seems to absolve people of needing to exercise judgment about potential unintended impacts or consequences of their creativity.
My last post discussed the need for leaders to think about their communications from the perspective on impact on others rather than from the point of view of their own intentions. I would argue that those with an abundance of creativity also have a responsibility to think through impact in addition to intent.
Back to the Ladders ad that got me all wrapped around this existential axle. The Ladders powers that be wrote my friend that they didn’t intend to offend people with the ads. Their intention was to “creatively portray the confidence – or “attractiveness” – we want our job seekers to experience after working with us”. Men with shirts unbuttoned sprawling on conference room tables and women falling over each other on sofas does not convey confidence and attractiveness in the context of job seeking to me. It’s just… ewwwww. And to Kelly Dingee’s point, I have to seriously question the judgment of anyone who signs up with the Ladders because they were influenced by those ads the way the creators intended. An unintended consequence of creative abundance run amok? Most likely.
Believe me, I love creative ideas, inventions, advertisements, etc. But like leaders, I think creative people have to think their ideas all the way through to both intended and unintended impacts. Creativity is not an excuse to kick good judgment and empathy to the curb.