Getting attention

As things happen to us today, our brain will filter most of it out.

For example, as you read the previous sentence, you didn’t pay attention to the color of the floor, you didn’t notice the background noise, you didn’t smell your coffee, and you weren’t aware of the pressure of your chair on your back.

And as we later recount to someone what happened to us today, we will omit most of it.

“How was your day, honey?” “Oh, great! Sam and I met for lunch and I had the best salad. Then, after work, I went to check out the new gym near the office… leg press machine… then picked up some wine… kids’ homework…”

And whoever listened to our day’s recap will only absorb some of it.

This is just how brains work. They pay attention to what is important to this person at this moment.

It’s helpful to remember this when we attempt to communicate with, or train our employees.

Keep it short. Keep it simple. Make it impactful. Make it useful.

If your employees need to remember something, make them want to remember it. Once they want something, they will pay attention to anyone who offers it to them.

Life switch

No vaccine is 100% effective against the COVID virus.

This is why vaccinated people still need to double-mask and keep their distances.

And even then, they can still get infected.


No compliance program is 100% effective against wrongdoing.

This is why organizations need to constantly work on their ethical culture.

And even then, they can still experience wrongdoing.


COVID put our life train on a new track.

Every compliance escape put our companies on a new track.

In response, we must do what is right and what feels right.

Once we have prepared for the worst, we owe it to ourselves to hope for the best.

Life must go on.

Life does go on.

From me to you

Have you ever had a great idea and thought “My boss will never go for that?”

It should not be the end of your great idea.

Maybe your boss is not the right person to put it to, so put it to someone else.

Maybe you are not the right person to bring it to your boss, so ask someone else to bring it to her.

Or maybe someone other than you should bring it to someone other than your boss.

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

Harry S. Truman

On purpose

Why do we do what we do? 

What drives us to become ethics and compliance professionals? How does a person navigate the first 25 or 35 years of their life to land on this path?

Let’s be honest. Compliance work is difficult work. Where does the fire in our belly come from that makes us want to do this? Is it because we have a love for rules? Is it because we are crushed as the sight of injustice?

Some of us seek virtue, knowing that it will lead to order, fairness and justice. We long for significance through honest connections with others. Those connections reduce our existential angst. We give of ourselves out of a selfish drive to matter. 

We become social animals so that we don’t die while we are living. The same desire leads others to become doctors, educators, firefighters, farmers, actors or soldiers. Like us, they find meaning in purpose, and happiness in the pure joy of the work.

Meanwhile, others run away from their existential angst by seeking immediate rewards that are, at best, external to their work and, at worst, obtained through cheating, lying and stealing. They don’t enjoy the work. They are unhappy and wasting their life.

Why do we do what we do?

On permission

I met with a few relatives yesterday.

We hadn’t seen each other in over a year. We were all vaccinated. We met outdoors. Many of us were wearing masks.

Several times I heard one person ask another: “Can I hug you?”

I question that meant “I’ve missed you,” “You mean a lot to me,” “I’m so glad to see you,” “I haven’t hugged anyone is such a long time.”

A question that also meant “I’m not going to assume that you are OK with me hugging you.”

One relative picked up on that last meaning and reflected out loud “Perhaps we should have been asking this question all along.”

Rainy day fund

Everyone knows to have a rainy day fund.

Yet, few people have one, despite the fact that cars break down, roofs leak, and pandemics hit.

Today I listened to this story of a businessman and it reminded me of the responsibility businesses have to build rainy day funds. After 22 years in business, this man was unable to pay his business rent the first month of the pandemic. Since then, he has borrowed $130K to keep his business open and had to scrap his retirement plans.

A personal rainy day fund is a responsibility we have to protect our families. A business rainy day fund is a responsibility we have to protect our employees, suppliers and customers.

If you don’t have one, start one today. If you do have one, make sure it can cover one year of expenses.

It will rain again.

Prepare for impact

NASA announced yesterday that asteroid Apophis will not strike the Earth for at least another 100 years. That’s good news, given that the impact we had feared for 2036 could have killed more than 10 million people. The question is, will we prepare for an eventual impact?

The last time we lost tens of millions of humans on the planet, it was 100 years ago, during the pandemic of 1918. We knew it was going to happen again, but we didn’t really prepare for it.

Near-term catastrophes seem to light a fire under our chairs, but far-away ones leave us apathetic.

For publicly traded companies, the next quarterly earnings report is the near-term catastrophe. For politicians, the next election is the near-term catastrophe. For NGOs, the next round of funding is the near-term catastrophe. All resources are marshaled to avoid an impact. Few resources, if any, are allocated to preparing for the 100-year events.

And so today we see pandemics and social injustice.

And so tomorrow we will se water shortages, and food shortages, and natural disasters caused by climate change.

Prepare for impact.