Mitigating Evil

This is a continuation of a post entitled, Evil as an Emergent Property.

I’m glad Google removed “don’t be evil” from its mantra.

I can only guess as to why it was removed but it was perhaps an admission that they don’t believe in the concept of evil as we tend to define it:

A manifestation of profound immorality and wickedness, especially in people’s actions.

That seems like a pretty low bar to set for behavior.
And who the hell would admit to the above anyway?

No one, which is why it’s more important to look at systemic reasons for evil things happening rather than try to root out evil people.

I’ve assembled some ideas around what could help stifle the emergence of “evil” within an organization. Some require careful analysis, others careful planning, and another requires old-fashioned bravery.

Game Theory

Applying Game Theory principles can be as simple as assuming that every individual in an organization is working to serve their best interest.

Review the incentives in play within your organization. Are employees incentivized to turn a blind eye to corruption(do they receive bonuses)?

Is there a culture in place that discourages people from challenging their superiors?

You can be as morally righteous as you want—in a vacuum—but throw in a second entity and you gotta start acting in response to the other.

Angry Zodd, Danny the Last Earth Man

Flat Structure

Structure your organization to have as flat of a hierarchy as possible – not just in a strict organizational manner but by maintaining a culture that allows people to interact with corners of their organization outside of their own silly little responsibilities.

Each individual possesses a conscience which to a greater or lesser degree serves to restrain the unimpeded flow of impulses destructive to others. But when he merges his person into an organizational structure, a new creature replaces autonomous man, unhindered by the limitations of individual morality, freed of humane inhibition, mindful only of the sanctions of authority.

Stanley Milgram

Holistic Planning

Having a flat structure isn’t enough to stop evil; when planning projects, you need to make sure to involve as many departments as possible such that the project has maximum visibility and transparency. This ensures that evil deeds don’t go unnoticed.

Innovation is the lifeblood of an organization. Knowing how to lead and work with creative people requires knowledge and action that often goes against the typical organizational structure. Protect unusual people from bureaucracy and legalism typical of organizations.

Max De Pree

Civil Disobedience

Don’t just follow orders. You won’t be protected by your employer anyway.

Build a valuable skillset that allows you to live without fear of being unable to feed yourself and your family.

Live minimally so as to not become beholden to a decadent lifestyle and save enough to be able to quit if your conscience demands it.

…but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays

Anonymous Discussion/Feedback

Provide ways for your employees to deliver feedback anonymously.

One potential model involves 360 degree feedback. So named because of its all-encompassing reach, 360 Degree Feedback is an information gathering method that allows employees of all ranks and titles to receive confidential and anonymous feedback from coworkers. The model is simple enough: workers complete a feedback form that spans several different office competencies in regards to other employees and departments.

Provide an anonymous forum for your organization where sensitive topics can be explored without fear of repercussions or revenge. Ensure that the forum users can self-moderate and that topics are relevant to your organization; don’t let your company forum devolve into 4chan.


I stated in the last post that I don’t believe that people are evil. Rather, people will adjust to become what the system allows them to be. They will be as good or as bad as the structure and incentives nudge them to be.

Our current low-attention culture fixates on individuals and applies maximum wrath to destroy those they think are responsible for “evil”.

But perhaps “evil” deeds arise through mismanagement, disorganization and apathy rather than pure individual wickedness.

The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.


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