The Success Habit That Doesn’t Give Up On Ethics

When talking about business and ethics, someone always replies: “That’s nice, but I have to pay for <rent, bills, loans, a lifestyle I’ve grown used to…>”

This idea comes from the very loud and over-represented examples of unethical behavior we see in the Media. People who keep behaving unethically, but do pretty well for themselves:

  • Travis Kalanick who has created one of the most valued startups out there, but who has created a company culture that allows for sexual harassment among its employees,
  • Donald Trump who earns billions and gets elected as the US president while having a career littered with scandals
  • The Weapon Industry that gets wealthy on the death of others
  • Walmart owners building a fortune on the back of taxpayers because they don’t pay a living wage, which forces their workers to get on public assistance
  • Big Tech companies dodging taxes in tax havens like Ireland
  • Oil Companies, who get wealthy on the extraction of scarce non-renewable and polluting resources

But all of them have to pay the price for unethical success, like lack of trust, constant vigilance, scrutiny and eventual penalty. None of these people will be remembered kindly by history.

“Don’t ask how you’re going to pay your rent working ethically. Ask why you’re open to behaving unethically in the first place.” – Mike Monteiro

You might have had your back against the wall and had to do something unethical at one point. After all we are all human and messy.

We agree that it’s wrong to steal. But if your family was about to starve, none of us would hesitate in stealing a loaf of bread. The problem comes when stealing goes from an emergency method to survive to a primary way of earning an income.

So how can we make sure that we are on the right ethical path?

The Simple Habit To Create Heaven On Earth

Stephen Covey’s book the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” has one habit that shows the way:

We must commit to creating Win-Win situations that are mutually beneficial and satisfying to everybody.

Covey explains that there are six paradigms of human interaction:

1. Win-Win: Both people win. Agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying to both parties.

2. Win-Lose: “If I win, you lose.” Win-Lose people are prone to use position, power, credentials, and personality to get their way.

3. Lose-Win: “I lose, you win.” Lose-Win people are quick to please and appease, and seek strength from popularity or acceptance.

4. Lose-Lose: Both people lose. When two Win-Lose people get together — that is, when two determined, stubborn, ego-invested individuals interact — the result will be Lose-Lose.

5. Win: People with the Win mentality don’t necessarily want someone else to lose — that’s irrelevant. What matters is that they get what they want.

6. Win-Win or No Deal: If you can’t reach an agreement that is mutually beneficial, there is no deal.

As you can imagine, the best option to live in harmony and abundance is to create Win-Win situations.

When going for Win-Lose, or Lose-Win situations, you’ll be getting what you want for the moment, but this will hurt your relationship with others going forward.

The Win-Win or No Deal option is essential to use as a backup. This is what Gandhi or Martin Luther King had in mind when they turned to non-cooperation campaigns to end colonialism and segregation. This is also what Feminism is about.

That’s what Martin Luther King meant when he said to his most bitter opponents :

“ We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you.

We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you.

But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

When we have No Deal as an option in our mind, we don’t need to manipulate people to push our own agenda. We rally them to our cause and also do the best to understand how to improve their condition so that we achieve a winning deal for both sides.

When seeking Win-Win situations, we must consider two factors: Consideration and courage. Take a look at the following chart:

Source: Hubspot

“To go for Win-Win, you not only have to be nice, you have to be courageous.” -Stephen Covey

Some examples of courageous and considerate organisations practicing Win-win with users would be any company choosing to open source their products. Arduino, WordPress or Free Code Camp, among thousand of others give complete freedom to their users to access their code or design and sell it. In exchange, Open Source companies get contributions from the community to improve their own inventions and brand.

Or companies like Patagonia or Fairphone that sells durable reusable and repairable products, Clients get to keep their products for longer without having to make expensive replacements. And companies get to improve the goodwill of their clients towards them.

Then there are companies practicing Win-Win with their employees. Platform coops like Stocksy do their best to share their ownership and benefits with their photographers and employees, which attracts even more qualitative content to their platform. Fairphone also strives to pay fair wages to its factory workers, building a trust bond through the company and its providers.

On the other hand, the typical examples of courageous but less considerate organisations practicing Win-lose with users and society are drug dealers, who make money on the back of people’s addictions and loneliness. But other companies like Uber are also famous for their win-lose strategies.

Uber works to become a unicorn by disrupting the taxi industry, at the risk of breaking the law to get there, which puts at stake the employment of thousands of taxi drivers.

Airbnb is another company whose impact negatively affects the people who live in city centers of European cities like Barcelona or Venice by making rent unbearably high for residents.

Many multi-billion companies like Facebook, Google or Instagram are also practicing win-lose strategies with their providers — even if they are unaware of it. They depend on Open Source technologies to run their operation, like OpenSSL. Most of the times, underfunded projects are responsible for developing this open source technology. In 2011 this caused the Heartbleed bug that allowed any sophisticated hacker to capture millions of people’s passwords, credit card information, and other sensitive data. As long as companies keep failing to give back, support and fund to pay for the open source infrastructure they use to build multi-billion empires, the whole Internet is as vulnerable to similar attacks as the Titanic was from sinking after hitting an Iceberg.

And of course we also find organisations practicing win-lose with society.

In the past, the segregationist and colonialist empires took advantage of the free-to-nearly-free labour and land that they could take a hold of. They could be called “Courageous” because they had to make use of violence to keep segregation and colonialism running. But they were not at all considerate for the wellbeing of those under their rule.

The Mindset You Need To Create Heaven On Earth

Another important factor in creating Win-Win situations is developing an Abundance Mentality.

Abundance Mentality is the belief that there is plenty out there for everyone.

Most people operate with the Scarcity Mentality, meaning that they act as though everything is zero-sum. In other words, if you get it, I don’t.

People with the Scarcity Mentality have a very hard time sharing recognition or credit and find it difficult to be genuinely happy about other people’s successes.

For example when Steve Jobs, who prided himself in stealing from others, was ready to go thermonuclear with Google because he considered that Android was a stolen product.

When it comes to leading others, the more committed we are to Win-Win, the more powerful our influence will be.

That abundance mentality is what explains the success of movements like Free Software led by Richard Stallman, or Non-violence led by Gandhi or MLK.

The spirit of Win-Win can’t survive in an environment of competition. To achieve Win-Win, keep the focus on results, not methods; on problems, not people.

The Missing Piece: Developing Win-Win With Nature

What we just covered so far about Stephen Covey’s win-win habit is essential, but it is still a human-centered win-win between individuals, organisations and society.

To work in a real abundance mentality, we also need to include a Win-win relationship towards Nature and every being, human or non-human.

We need to rethink our relationship with every resource we take to create our comfort and livelihood.

Like when we keep extracting materials and producing waste faster than we can regenerate it to produce smartphones, computers, plastics, fast fashion, fossil fuels, lithium batteries and over-extractive industries like intensive agriculture or fishery.

Unless we regenerate more than we consume, we carve a path of lifeless scarcity for ourselves.

“When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.” – Native American saying.

Some beautiful win-win strategies with nature are exemplified by regenerative organisations and movements like Circular Economy and Biomimicry companies like Ecovative, a company that creates packaging made out of mushrooms that creates no waste.

Permacultural approaches like the Bec Hellouin farm or Afforestt are profitably growing forests, food and regenerating land faster and more densely than any other intensive agricultural practice can.

The above mentioned Patagonia and Fairphone design their products to be durable and easy to repair, which in turn saves tons of waste.

The time has come to adopt a different Win Win or No Deal mindset towards nature. Whatever you do, keep these rules in mind when designing new products or practices:

  • Exploit renewable resources no faster than they can be regenerated
  • Deplete nonrenewable resources no faster than the rate at which renewable substitutes can be developed
  • Emit wastes no faster than they can be safely assimilated by ecosystems


You are responsible for what you put in the world. And you are responsible for the effects your work has on the world, whether with clients, users, employees or nature.

I get that you want to change the world and you are ready to do anything to get there, but making things at the expense of the planet or someone else’s freedom will create more scarcity overall.

Imagine how you would react if your doctor, lawyer, grocer or favorite politicians behaved unethically.

Well, now imagine how present and future generations will think of you when they realize that you were not behaving ethically. Not being in a win-win relation with other humans or the planet. For taking the shortcuts, not because you had to get out of starvation, but because you went on to make your income out of it.

Here are some steps you can take to get on the ethical list.

How to practise success Win-Win:

Get yourself to start thinking Win-Win with these challenges:

  1. When meeting with someone you want to strike a deal with, ask him at the end of the negotiation: “Is there anything that would be holding you from working with us / signing up / making a purchase from us today?”
    They will tell you if there is any objection. Then you can solve it.
    Write down a list of what the other person is looking for. If it’s reasonable, offer to add what’s missing.
  2. Identify three important relationships in your life. Think about what you feel the balance is in each of those relationships. Do you give more than you take? Take more than you give? Write down 10 ways to always give more than you take with each one.
  3. Deeply consider your own interaction tendencies. Are they Win-Lose? How does that affect your interactions with others? Can you identify the source of that approach? Determine whether or not this approach serves you well in your relationships with others and nature. Write all of this down.
  4. Take the Free Regenerative Diagnostic to find areas where you can improve your win-win practices towards nature.

Inspired by:
7 Habits of Highly Effective People [Book Summary] by Anum Hussain
Dear Design Student, by Mike Monteiro
Strength to Love, by Martin Luther King

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Jaime Arredondo
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