Doctors have the Hippocratic Oath. It is an ethical framework on which they can fall back when they have doubts about the right course of action. I think it must be comforting to have some kind of guidelines to fall back to when the shit hits the fan.
As far as I’m aware there is no Hippocratic Oath for entrepreneurs. I think there should be. In business you are often forced to seek out the boundaries of ethic behavior. How much profit can you make before you feel like an extortionist? How many people can you email before it becomes spam? Just like doctors we are faced with difficult questions every day.
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I’m not sure an entrepreneurial oath would have stopped the guys at Enron or Bernie Madoff. But things might have looked different if they would have had been exposed to some business ethics earlier in life.
Today I would like to make a start with an Entrepreneurial Code of Conduct. We might call it Schumpeter’s Oath, after Joseph Schumpeter, the economist credited with introducing the concept of the Entrepreneur. Or simply the Entrepreneurs Oath.
I don’t care much and I hope someone takes the whole thing, publishes it on a wiki and comes up with a better text. What I drafted here is just that, a draft. If you know the Hippocratic Oath you might recognize parts of it. I took one version and rewrote it to fit us entrepreneurs better.
The Entrepreneurial Code of Conduct
I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
- I will respect the hard-won experience of those entrepreneurs in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
- I will apply, for the benefit of my customers, shareholders and partners all measures [that] are required, avoiding self enrichment
- I will remember that there is art to entrepreneurial activities as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the managers skills or the businessman’s experience
- I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a company or project success.
- I will respect the privacy of my customers, partners and shareholders, for their information is not to be disclosed to the world. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of profit and loss. If it is given me to make profit, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to lose my shareholders money; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
- I will remember that I do not serve an anonymous person, but a human being, whose needs may affect the person’s family, business and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the customer and everybody affected by my actions as an entrepreneur.
- I will prevent problems caused by my business whenever I can, for the social impact of my company is as important as its goal of turning a profit.
- I will remember that I and my company remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body and well as rich and poor.
- If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life, friendship, revenues and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of serving those who seek to acquire my products, services or company.