The Seven Deadly Sins and
Ideas for the Future Series
By Gerald Harris
The Art of Quantum Planning
Has the time come for business leaders to think more seriously about the underlying spirit
involved in their decisions? A range of events has, in my view, exposed some serious
short-comings on the part of the senior leadership of some major companies in the moral
and spiritual areas. Is now the time to make the strengthen connection between business
strategy and underlying spiritual values? Considering the magnitude of some of the ruin
brought on the companies, shareholders and society at large, I think so.
I want to clearly establish that I am not suggesting this from a religious point of view. I
am not suggesting that business leaders need a religious revival of any type, primarily
because I am in no position to recommend one religion over another and I believe
religion should be a personal choice. I commend those persons who find an effective
path to more grounded spiritual behavior in their lives through religious practice.
I am suggesting this from a practical point of view—that is, what works well and what
can be broadly understood and applied. I am also coming at this from the point of a
business strategist and scenario planner. My intent is to focus on what might lead to
more successful strategies and more successful outcomes for companies.
Two comments about my use of the word spirit in this article. Again, I am not arguing
for its importance to justify a religious belief of any sort. Yet, most persons understand
that human beings possess a spirit. Outside of religious practice and in our everyday
lives we see spiritual expression in our activities; ranging from our participation in sports
activities, encouraging friends and family following unfortunate events, to gathering
support for challenging teamwork. We recognize spirit as a basis for enthusiasm,
resilience, and perseverance. No leader worth his or her salt would argue those trait are
not valuable in building, growing and sustaining a business.
Second, I believe spirit-driven energy helps shape the future outcome of our efforts.
Without spirit (and its emotional traits of enthusiasm, resilience, and perseverance)
certainly the success of any endeavor will be more difficult to achieve. So spirit-driven
energy can directly impact the ability of businesses to successfully implement strategy.
Without spirit half-hearted efforts result. Spirit is important in creating the futures we
wish to live in. In those ways I am using spirit for this article.
The Seven Deadly Sins
My thinking about the Seven Deadly Sins (7DS) was triggered after reading the summary
introduction (volume 1) of the Examiners Report concerning the Lehman Brothers, Inc.
bankruptcy. After reviewing the mistakes by Lehman’s highest executive leaders in
managing the company into failure, I could not help but wonder was there something
wrong on a spiritual level. I was astounded to read about Dick Fuld, the CEO of Lehman,
using a private elevator to enter his office so he did not have encounter regular employees
of the firm! He and basically two senior people made all the key strategic decisions of
the firm that exposed it to the huge risks (betting against the decline in the value of
mortgaged back securities in the recession) that ultimately destroyed the company. In
reporting in the broader press (see the Wall Street Journal series on the End of Wall
Street, or the Frontline-PBS reporting on the decline of Wall Street as examples), Dick
Fuld was a widely disliked individual amongst his peers. Something in the spiritual area
must have been amiss.
As I applied the 7DS as a tool for understanding the spiritual contributions to Lehman’s
failure I was inspired to write this article for my website’s Ideas for the Future section. I
go beyond Lehman below to note other business examples explicating the 7DS and
This article extends some of the ideas initiated in the tenth chapter of The Art of
Quantum Planning which addresses the personal growth aspects of planning. For
strategists reading this article, I am suggesting the ideas below be used as tools for
thinking and learning in the development and assessment of business strategies. Similar
to my seven ideas from quantum physics in my book, the approach here is to have tools
which will push strategic thinking outside comfort zones using an organized tool/list.
Good “what if” questions that arise from using these ideas might help start the kind of
creative “learning-forward” thinking I advocate. In the conclusion I will introduce a
specific intervention tool for planners.
A snapshot below displays the 7DS and my re-interpretation of them for business strategy
purposes. The remainder of this article will briefly discuss business examples for each of
Original Sin Business Business Case
Short term thinking Lehman Bros. decision to double
Greed down on mortgage-backed securities
Merrill Lynch’s management of its
Wanting a quick path to
mortgage-backed security business
by a tyrant style leader
Comparing “apples and AT&T’s attempts to copy WorldCom’s
Envy oranges” companies
financially unsound strategies which
were fraudulently presented.
Wanting too much Toyota Motor’s attempt to be the
Gluttony market share/fast growth
world’s largest automaker leading to
Disrespect of workers The re-selling of the Simmons
Mattress Company to various hedge
Over-attachment to the Lehman and Merrill can compete for
Pride ideas of a isolated small
who is worst in this area
Copying others creativity Microsoft’s failed entry into the cell
Laziness without adding value
Some readers may object to a serious discussion of the 7DS as a basis for considering
something as complex as business strategy. Such a simple list may seem too minimalist
for serious discussion. A basis from which I argue the contrary is found in the best seller
This Time is Different, by Professors Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart. The book
looks at 800 years of economic boom and bust cycles. They leave with one big
conclusion: people and nations repeat the same economic mistakes by a combination of
ignorance of the past (simply not studying history and learning from patterns) and
arrogance (believing there is something special and different about your particular
situation). Ignorance and arrogance are simple mistakes with massive costs. The same
may be true for simple spiritual mistakes. Do we as a modern society think we are
somehow immune from the 7DS because there is something special about modern life? I
don’t think so.
The Seven Deadly Sins Business Case Examples
1. Greed-Excessive focus on the short term
To pinpoint greed as one of deadly sins is a touchy subject in economic circles because
some will argue that it is a prime motivator of human consumption and is therefore
fundamental to a modern economy. But greed is not the same as desire for goods for
what may be life-affirming and legitimate reasons. I want to define greed here as
excessive desire for immediate or short term gratification without any concern for the
longer term consequences. I want to suggest greed in this case as what causes companies
to take short cuts just so this quarter’s performance (not just profit, but other measures—
more on profit below) hits some preset goal. This kind of thinking drives actions in a
company that dull the intellect and drives behaviors that cast to the wind concerns about
consequences occurring later.
This kind of thinking was glaringly evident in the Lehman Brother’s case. No greater
evidence is necessary, in my view, than in the excessive leverage and slim real equity
used by the company to drive short term profits and performance. Literally each night the
company refinanced billions of dollars and committed accouting fraud on investors.
Vicky Ward’s book, The Devil’s Casino, as well as the bankruptcy examiners report, are
rife with examples of plain short term thinking driven by greed.
A serious question that might be asked here is whether greed is required to succeed on
Wall Street? I think the answer is and has to be no. It is no because there are plenty of
firms functioning on Wall Street who are providing quality service to investors and
making good profits. The answer also has to be no from a societal standpoint. Can we as
a society and a nation prosper and properly channel valuable resources if at the center of
our financial system is an unstable, unsustainable and cancerous value like unbridled
2. Lust—Want of a quick path to money and profit
I am suggesting lust as a special and important case of greed for businesses—lust being
the specific money-driven case (money for money’s sake). This is important in business
because of the stock market’s obsession with quarterly profit forecasts and reports that
drive changes in stock prices. Evident in the Lehman Bros. case, as well as many others,
are CEO’s efforts to manipulate accounting processes to assure quarterly reports have
various measures within certain ranges. This is a pure money-driven game.
An example of this kind of thinking can be seen in the saga of that eventually led to
selling of Merrill Lynch to Bank of America during the global credit crisis of 2008-2009.
The leadership of Merrill Lynch under E. Stanley O’ Neal (see a range of articles on this
company in the NYT; a good start would be multimedia piece entitled “Volatile Tenure,”
and some of the coverage by Gretchen Morgenson of the NYT during 2009) was
singularly focused on driving short term financial performance. This kind of thinking
was driven strongly by the incentive payment plans for Merrill’s leaders. Lust led to a
disastrous series of investments to increase Merrill’s exposure to what proved to be a
historically risky mortgage bond market. Merrill’s drive for this kind of short term
performance was also driven by a desire to copy and outdo the performance of Lehman
Brothers (of all companies!). The sin of laziness further discussed below was also widely
in evidence in Merrill’s collapse into the arms of Bank of America.
3. Envy—Making inappropriate comparisons between companies
Envy may be the most difficult to see and respond to sin in business judging strategy.
The difficulty lies in the belief that if one group is successful at doing something, then so
can another. Sadly this is often not the case because serious differences in ability,
motivation, starting points, asset bases, and histories are overlooked. This is even the
case within companies as a success in one division may not be replicable in another (see
GM’s growth in China where it makes and sells a popular pickup truck for under $5000
against its bankrupting experience of an overdependence of SUVs in the U.S. market).
A tragic case of envy with widespread impacts in an industry was the collapse of
Worldcom, Inc. and what was later to be revealed as fraudulent accounting practices
(clearly Worldcom, Inc. would be another example of lust/short term profits, see article in
the February 9, 2005 NYT entitled, Witness Says Ebbers Urged Manipulations at
WorldCom). The presumed success of Worldcom was making other telecom company
managements look inadequate. They would enter similar markets as Worldcom without
the producing the same stellar results. AT&T at the time was pressured by investors to
beat Worldcom and likely overpaid for some acquisitions. The scandal arguably
impacted the financial integrity of entire U.S. telecom industry.
4. Gluttony—Over-pursuit of market share
A subtle way that companies may miss gluttony is the hard-wired notion that they must
grow in revenue and assets every year. Growth is so deeply ingrained that to suggest
that a company might consider not seeking growth is heresy. The tenure of all CEOs is
assessed on his or her record of growth. However, many companies which have survived
for decades will show periods of growth and shrinkage, selling and buying, cash rich
versus cash poor (Apple Inc. is a prime example). An unbroken line of growth,
especially in the same product or service market is generally not possible. This is why
companies seek to diversify into new markets.
So how can the pursuit of growth be described as the unhealthy sin of gluttony? I suggest
when it is growth for growth sake and with no other goal in mind. When growth is not
motivated by positive and worthy goals such as providing improved products or services,
serving unmet needs of customers, or improving the health of the community, it is
probably unhealthy. A case can be made that the troubles of the Toyota Motor Company
in 2010, with dangerous declines in product quality, are related to unhealthy growth and
gluttony (the CEO pretty much admitted this is his apology to customers in the United
States). This case may also fit nicely with my discussion of the sin of pride below as the
goal of Toyota leaders was simply to displace General Motors as the world’s largest
selling auto company. Toyota’s previous record of growth was spurred by things like
product quality and reliability, and good old competition in new markets (e.g., Lexus
versus the high end German automobile companies like Daimler Benz).
5. Wrath—Disrespect of the contribution of employees
Wrath is not something that business leaders spend much time thinking about. In my 20
years of consulting with leading companies worldwide, it has never come up. In today’s
world the concept of anger management is well-known and many managers with coaches
are likely to have some coaching around it if it appears as a career impediment.
However, for strategic purposes I want to suggest the definition of wrath that relates to
impatience and disrespect directed toward employees who are seen as disposable. In this
sense wrath can be seen unfair mistreatment of workers who have little or no recourse.
Fortunately mistreatment of workers in the most modern economies is rare (there are
laws and legal recourse against it). However, when companies are bought and sold and
new owners come in and see cutting labor costs as the prime method for getting a
financial return, I see this as wrathful treatment. The knowledge and skill of the workers
is completely discounted, and machines and lower cost labor are seen as the only
solutions. A sad case of this is the selling and reselling over a decade of the Simmons
Mattress Company by several hedge funds. The company’s workers were not considered
as valuable. Only the financial engineering that was possible based on the company’s
cash flow was valued (see the NYT.com for a video report on the recent history of the
company). Relentless cost cutting may be beneficial by leading to lower cost for
consumers, but there can be an extreme end of this that borders on the immoral,
especially if the lions-share of the benefits go to a few wealthy investors.
6. Pride—Over-attachment to the ideas of an isolated group
There are a host of practical reasons that the strategic thinking of a company can evolve
into the purview of a small isolated group. Among them are: the tendency toward elitism
that exists in leadership positions in modern society (highly educated from the “best”
schools); a need for confidentiality around making important decisions; nepotism in all its
forms; and over valuing historical performance of leaders (so that they and their ideas are
put on a “political” pedestal). Of course the problem with an isolated group is its
isolation—especially its isolation from changing external conditions. An isolated group
can quickly become out-of-touch in its thinking and dangerously unaware of new
conditions (it was a visit to a university that alerted Bill Gates to the coming importance
of the internet, not his internal managers!) Isolated groups cross the spiritual threshold
when the thinking of the group becomes closed and they become attached and defensive
about their ideas. Defensiveness is a key signal that pride is in play.
Both the Lehman Bros. and Merrill Lynch cases hold ample examples of unhealthy pride.
In the case of Lehman Bros. only the top three people were involved in its final fatal
strategic decisions. In the case of Merrill Lynch a small tyrannical group ran its
mortgage backed security operations. Anyone who disagreed was warned to get in line
or face being fired.
7. Laziness-Copying the creative ideas of others without really adding any distinctive
Of all of the deadly sins, this is one that I want to be most careful about pinning on
businesses because people are genuinely working in most cases and are not lazy in the
sense of lacking effort. So I am redefining it for business as not working hard enough on
creative pursuits to add anything of any real distinctive or comparative value. Laziness
exist when companies are satisfied with copying the creativity of others. (By the way a
good fast-follower strategy exists provided there is competitive valued added).
The case I want to suggest here is the Microsoft Corporation’s failures in the mobile
devise market (see NYT, July 4, Microsoft Calling, Anyone There). In each case
mentioned in the article Microsoft is simply trying to be a follower of new product
categories created by others. It is not introducing new categories of devices of its own,
but hoping to gain market share in product markets created by others. Two things stand
out in this article: Microsoft’s products are clearly not innovative in the eyes of
consumers, and the failure of the company to capture the best talent. Microsoft products
in this space were consistently late and dated. The NYT points out that a key creative
person, Andy Rubin (involved in the Android phone and a Danger model supported by
Microsoft) chose to join Google to continue his work.
During June, 2010 the market capitalization of Apple, Inc. exceeded that of Microsoft.
This is because Apple is creating innovative new categories of mobile devices. Apple is
a creative leader and has its customers anxiously awaiting its new value-added
Ideas for Planning and Next Steps
So, can avoiding the 7DS can play a role in strategic analysis of companies, and if so,
how? My starting point for an answer is that the 7DS need to be seriously considered by
the most senior leaders of the company. Consideration of the 7DS must begin with their
personal thoughts and conduct so the values they espouse are well grounded. When they
think strategically they must consider the metaphysical forces being released based on the
spiritual dimensions of their decisions. If the wages of sin are death, are companies really
immune to this? I doubt it.
In Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others
Don’t, he has a fantastic chapter on what he calls Level 5 leadership. Of the key
characteristics of effective leaders he mentions are humility and modesty. I can easily
imagine that persons with these characteristics will be careful and conscious of actions
that smell of the 7DS.
For improving strategic planning within organizations, a great tool to head off the 7DS is
the process of Positive Visioning. Positive Visioning is a spiritual practice most recently
popularized and set forth by Reverend Dr. Michael Beckwith of the Agape Center in
Southern California. Dr. Beckwith is a New Thought minister out of the Science of Mind
tradition who wants to bring positive visioning to all people. The six-step process he
advocates starts with the key questions for a spiritual follower of “what is the Divine’s
purpose for my life and how is the Divine expressing itself through my life?
Positive Visioning for an organization should begin with the question of “what is a divine
positive purpose this company can serve in the world?” A divine positive purpose for a
company is one which has a focus on edifying the customers and community served. A
divine positive purpose enables something that improves the human condition. A
positive divine purpose should also be executed in a manner in which employees and the
planet are treated with respect and honored.
Shown below are all six of the key questions in the positive visioning process for the
individual and my suggestion for parallel restatements that can work for planning and
development purposes in an organization.
Positive Visioning Steps
For the Individual For an Organization
What is the Divine vision of life expressing What is the divine positive purpose this
itself through my life? organization can serve in the world?
What does it look like, feel like or sound What might it look like and feel like for
like? person involved in creating this vision?
What must I become in order to fulfill that What kind of people and skills will be
vision of myself? needed to implement this vision?
What must I release in order to live that What old beliefs and ideas must be
vision of myself? released in order to implement this vision?
What must I embrace in order to live that What challenges must be embraced and
vision of myself? overcome in implementing this vision?
Is there anything else I need to learn more What might need to be explored and
about at this time? learned about to implement this vision?