Making Ethical Decisions

Click to download Dr. Payne's Ethical Decision-Making presentation PDF

Click above to download Dr. Payne’s Ethical Decision-Making presentation in PDF format

I gave a presentation today for Junior Achievement to 250 high school students from surrounding counties during their visit to UNG thanks to the BB&T Center for Ethical Business Leadership in the Mike Cottrell College of Business. It was an honor to be able to share my perspective on ethical decision-making with future college students to help them make better choices now that help them become who and what they want to be.

I’m attaching the PowerPoint slides in PDF format [Ethical Decision-Making – Junior Achievement – 2013 – 0.3MB PDF] , and just the notes version is given here for convenience:

Ethical Decision-Making
A presentation for Junior Achievement September 24, 2013
Dr. Bryson Payne
Department Head of Computer Science
Ethical Decision-Making
•Identifying ethical dilemmas
•Knowing your values
•Gathering information
•Weighing the options
•Deciding and acting
•Making hard choices
•Dealing with the tension
•Becoming who you want to be
Identifying ethical dilemmas
•Ethical dilemma – when two options/outcomes both meet, or both violate, one or more values
Knowing your values
•Your values…      vs.
•What you value
•Respect of others
Gathering information
•Information – facts, unknowns, stakeholders
•Options – ask for advice/help, get creative
•Alternatives – evaluate the options, test or try
•Solutions – which option is best (or least bad)
•Pros & Cons
•Short-term & Long-term
Weighing the options
•Four ethical & philosophical approaches presented by Junior Achievement, plus three “bonus” frameworks:
–Cherokee long-life perspective
–Ask yourself “what story do I want to tell?”
Ethical & philosophical approaches
•Act after weighing the consequences. Choose what does the most good for the most people.
•Act on what you were taught or trained by parents, family, teachers, coaches, friends.
•Act on what is required by your job or the law. Review your responsibilities and commitments.
•Act after referring to your belief in a right way. Review your virtues, faith, or conscience.
•Rotary four-way test
Idealism: Begin with the end in mind
•Start with the ideal state, and work your way back
•Stephen R. Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) called this “Beginning with the end in mind”
Cherokee long-life perspective
•Cherokee storytellers speak of a concept their ancestors used in making important decisions:
•The Long-Life Perspective – picture yourself as an old man/woman, and think about what you would tell yourself in this moment or situation
•Are there things you wish you knew 5 years ago? Try to imagine yourself five years from now, giving your present self the same advice.
Ask yourself
“What story do I want to tell?”
•Author and pastor Andy Stanley frames this as a question: What story do I want to tell?
•In 5, 10, 15, 50 years… what kind of story do I want to be able to tell about this time, or about my life
•His advice: Never make a choice that will make you a liar for life – in other words, make decisions you can tell, truthfully, in your story
Deciding and acting
•However you arrive at your choice, you have to decide – you have to act on a decision
•Evaluate who you are, what you value, what you’re passionate about, where you want to go, how you want to be known
•Make a decision and be prepared to stand by it – be ready to take responsibility for the outcome, good or bad – or correct it
Making hard choices
•Most of our decisions are “default” decisions – some psychologists estimate 80% or more
•Set yourself up for good “default” decisions
•Willpower usually loses in the long run
•Discipline is the ability to plan ahead/work ahead to avoid willpower failures
–Don’t go to the grocery store hungry, pick a designated driver BEFORE going out, decide what you WON’T do – think ahead, avoid bad situations
Dealing with the tension
•Recognize the tension that comes from two conflicting values – ethical dilemmas:
–telling the truth or being loyal to a friend when they ask you to cover for them;
–wanting to keep a job but needing to tell a boss about inappropriate behavior;
–taking personal responsibility or saving money by not reporting an item you broke…
Becoming who you want to be
•You can’t just BE what or who you want to be – you have to BECOME
•A life, a reputation is made up of choices
–Start with the ideal state and work your way back
–Consider the Cherokee long-life perspective
–Don’t make a choice that will make you a liar for life
•Success is made up of habits – plan ahead, set your boundaries – what WON’T you do?
Ethics for Life
•Ethical dilemmas are a part of your life today
•They will continue to arise in your work life, your family life, etc., for the rest of your life
•The challenge, and perhaps the unfair thing, is that it only takes one unethical decision to ruin a career, a family, or a reputation
•Set yourself up for good “big” decisions by making good “little” decisions every day
Resources for Ethical Decision Making
•UNG BB&T Center for Ethical Business Leadership:
•SCU Markkula Center for Applied Ethics:
Thank you for your time!
•Copies of the presentation:
Available online at
•More information about computer science/IT careers:

About Bryson Payne

Author of Teach Your Kids to Code, Speaker, and Professor of Computer Science at the University of North Georgia.

View all posts by Bryson Payne

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