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As popular as the phrase “Do the Right Thing” may be, defining the “Right Thing” can be quite a complex and even controversial exercise. On this episode of There Has to Be a Better Way?, NYU Professor Alison Taylor tackles the question of what it means for a business to do the right thing in today’s world, with multiple—and often conflicting—stakeholder expectations. She challenges some common notions such as “bring your whole self to work” and “courage to speak up” with deeper questions that will get you thinking!

There Has to Be a Better Way? Episode 24

What is the “Right Thing” to Do?

00:00 37:50

Transcript:

Zachary Coseglia: Welcome back to the Better Way? podcast, brought to you by R&G Insights Lab. This is a curiosity podcast, where we ask, “There has to be a better way, right?” There just has to be. I’m Zach Coseglia, the co-founder of R&G Insights Lab, and I am joined, as always, by my friend and colleague, Hui Chen. Hi, Hui.

Hui Chen: Hi, Zach. Hi, everybody. We have a very special guest today with us, and it’s my friend and esteemed colleague, Alison Taylor, at Ethical Systems. Alison, say hi to everyone.

Alison Taylor: Hello, everybody. I’m super thrilled to be here and really looking forward to this conversation with you both.

Zachary Coseglia: Thanks—us too.

Hui Chen: I always enjoy conversations with Alison. She’s one of those deep thinkers who can translate deep thoughts into interesting conversations, so that is a very unique combination of skills. Every time I talk to Alison, I learn something. And Alison, to benefit a great population of people, has written a book, which is what we’re going to focus our conversation on. So, maybe we can start, Alison, by you telling everyone a little bit more about yourself and also give us a quick preview of your book.

Alison Taylor: I’ve had a pretty weird career, I must say. I spent lots of my 20s traveling, and some of my 20s working in strategic management consultancy and political risk. Then I spent 12 years working in corporate investigations—so, bribery, fraud, corruption, due diligence. I worked, first of all, in the Middle East and Africa and then in the Americas—lots of what we used to call “high-risk emerging markets” before we all became high-risk emerging markets. And then I went for another degree in organizational psychology into working in sustainability. So, I worked in sustainability—or what is sometimes now called “ESG” consulting for a big range of corporations. And then I’ve been at NYU since the end of 2019. I’m the executive director of a think tank called Ethical Systems. I’m also a clinical professor at NYU, and that’s in fact now my full-time job.

My book is coming out in February—it’s called Higher Ground. My argument is that we have completely lost sight of what it means to be a good business in the 2020s. We all know that in the late 20th century, Milton Friedman put forth this view that everybody got behind that said, “It is a business that doesn’t break the law and maximizes shareholder value.” We only need to look out there for one second to see that if you try to do that and be seen as a good business, you wouldn’t get very far. Employees care about climate change. They care about human rights. They care about geopolitics. They care about inequality. And so, we’ve seen the rather messy rise of sustainability and ESG, but I think it’s genuinely become incredibly difficult to run a business today. There is a lot of cynicism, there’s really a “gotcha” mindset for good reason, but I try and just answer the question in a good faith way: “If you’re in charge of a business today and you want your business to do the right thing and be a good business, you really want to make your best effort—what would you do? How far do you need to go? How far is too far? How can you address all these various pressures that we really see business leaders are under?” So, that’s the question I try to answer, but it’s obviously a pretty difficult question.

Zachary Coseglia: Alison, I feel like Hui and I are very lucky in that we have the opportunity to preview your book. I actually want to start with the title in asking you our first question. So, it’s Higher Ground, and the subtitle is How Business Can Do the Right Thing in a Turbulent World. In the second part of your book, you dive into doing the right thing, with chapters on stakeholder trust, setting social environmental priorities tackling corruption, etc. This concept though of doing the right thing, it’s actually kind of a controversial concept for a variety of reasons, including that what the right thing is may not always be clear, or there may be differing views. So, let’s start there: What does doing the right thing mean in the context of your book?

Alison Taylor: I totally agree with you that we don’t know what it means, and that’s kind of part of the problem. We can’t anchor to the law anymore, as I’ve already said. We’re also not in that late 20th century international global consensus, “We’ll just get the U.N. and the OECD to weigh in, and we’ll all kind of collectively decide that we agree with capitalism and democracy.” In fact, questions of capitalism and democracy are being contested almost everywhere. A lot of people will say, “There’s no role for business to be ideological. There’s no role for business to try to solve social issues. Business shouldn’t be ideological.” I interviewed 200 people for my book—including Hui, who is extensively quoted—and I was completely flabbergasted by how many people I think of as “prominent ethics experts” got on the line with me, and the first or second thing they said was, “I try at all costs to avoid using the word ‘ethics.’ People think you’re going to start singing hymns. People think you’re going to start lecturing us.” So, part of this, I think, is the result of ethics being treated as punitive, being treated as what you should not do. Part of it relates to political polarization and dysfunction and the fact that we do not agree as a society, either domestically or globally, on how far a business should go to solve societal problems. And part of it is that our identities, our images are increasingly tied up with our work. In the classroom, I hear young people saying, “I want to have an impact, and I want to work somewhere I can believe in.” The idea of an “ethical business” has also become this kind of vehicle for my own career, my personal impact and my ambitions. Then, we’ve got this era of shaper transparency and this “gotcha” mindset where the public is just so cynical about business. There’s all this spin, there’s this PR, there’s this greenwashing and then this rise of employee strategic leaking weaponizing information. So, the reputational environment is really fraught.

All of those trends, all of the things I just described might lead us to say, “How can we possibly decide what it means to be an ethical business?” I do make a call—I say that rather than anchoring to the law, rather than anchoring to abstract philosophical principles, the best place to anchor is in your business’s impact on human beings, which means you try to manage your externalities. You make your best effort to do no harm. You clean up your own mess. You treat employees with dignity and respect, including giving your employees the ability to believe what they like and express their opinions. You do not have the right to necessarily say that you are representing what your employees think on the global stage or in some way have the ability or the authority to speak to your stakeholders. You do have an obligation, I think, to respect human dignity and human rights—not violate them. And until you have made your best effort to do all those things, I really think you have no business being out there making a lot of noise about all the wonderful things you’re doing or all the problems that you’re in fact not going to solve.

Zachary Coseglia: Amazing. I want to continue this line of discussion and pick up on the point about ethics but in the context of culture. So, let’s talk about ethical culture. I’m going to read an excerpt from the book. You write, “A further big barrier to progress is that ethical culture sounds fluffy and amorphous, while regulatory requirements are clear and specific. It’s temptingly easy to focus on processes and rules and to delegate their enforcement to compliance and HR teams, rather than ask uncomfortable questions about how leadership, oversight, norms, and decision-making need to evolve. Enacting meaningful change takes time and effort. It’s so much easier and quicker to degrade a culture than to build a better one.” That’s the end of the quote. So well said, but first, what does “ethical culture” mean?

Alison Taylor: I like the definition of “culture” from Edgar Schein: “The culture is the way we do things around here.” So, it is a combination of norms, leadership roles, structures. It’s the outcome of all these things, which is one of the reasons it’s so complex. The problem, I think, that relates to this notion of legalistic ideas of culture, is that we act as if we just need to remove the bad people or the bad apples from an organization, and we’ll have a better culture. We also act as if the only problems that we can imagine related to an ethical culture are principal-agent problems—our employees defrauding the company through fraud, bribery, fiddling their expenses, or whatever it might be. We do not really grapple with issues where the business model, the leadership, the strategy or the exploitation of externalities and market inefficiencies drives or even forces employees to do the right thing in order to drive the success of the business. So, we need to have a broader, more holistic perspective on what culture really means. And we also, I think, even more importantly, need to adapt to a world where we are no longer coming together in the office every day and seeing what these norms and leadership look like around us, and absorbing them and becoming socialized.

Another thing that’s happening is that I would say the boundaries around organizations are dissolving. So, we start to need to treat organizations as open systems and view leadership as more a question of influence and listening to employee voices and building networks, and less of a question of, “It’s up to the senior leadership to set strategy, design incentives, bark orders from the top, sit back and let the money roll in.” Culture is a difficult thing, but it’s something that emerges. It’s something that’s in constant flux. It’s something that if you’re not making a deliberate effort to build it, it’s going to degrade. And unethical culture then is a culture where there is an absence of perspective, an absence of thought, an absence of decision-making, and an absence of ethical criteria. It’s hard to generalize about an ethical culture, because all companies are unique, and there are many ways to have an ethical culture. You can, I think, generalize about an unethical culture, because this is a culture with an absence, an absence of purpose, a reactivity, maybe hyper-competition, and a sense that we’ve just got to win at all costs.

Hui Chen: Alison, it’s so interesting to listen to you, because what I am hearing out of a lot of this is “complexity,” which is a word that we like to use a lot in the Lab. Everything you say is the opposite of “reductionism.” It’s listening. It’s networking. It’s constant adjustment. It’s organic. It’s unique to each organization. Every one of those things that you said is not something that people can just boil down to two plus two equals four. This is such a struggle that we see every day—people like reductionism, particularly in this day and age where complex messages are not welcomed. Everything gets boiled down to a slogan, and somebody out there wants you to say, “Ethical culture is ABC.” But you didn’t say that—you said a whole bunch of complex things. In your experience in researching for this book, talking to people, what do you think we can do to help people be more comfortable with complexity and embrace complexity and fight this reductionist tendency that we all have?

Alison Taylor: We need to understand that this glib, tick-box simplicity just isn’t working. We need to also understand that if we’re going to make commitments to something, we need to be able to see them through. Part of the reason things get very complex is that you over-promise and try to do too much. So, I think it is partly a question of thinking more broadly—thinking from an organizational perspective rather than in this siloed way we tend to think about what’s compliance doing? What’s HR doing? What’s government relations doing? What’s sustainability doing? What are the communications teams doing? There needs to be an effort to think more holistically, but, of course, the only way to make holistic thinking work without becoming overwhelmed by complexity is to be more focused and to be more strategic, and to stop over-promising and stop trying to do too much.

I interview Dorothea Werner, who did the clean-up after the VW scandal, and she has amazing thoughts about culture and everything that she had to change. One of the points she makes is, “Even if you had replaced the whole leadership team at VW, you’d still have the problem, because there were still problems with silos and incentives and the way that the business was run, and the way that employees were encouraged to think.” So, you do need to tackle everything at once if you’re really going to resolve and revive an organization. And to your point, we see organizations repeatedly getting into trouble over and over and over again, often with new leadership. I certainly don’t disagree with you that people want these glib, easy solutions, but I think we can probably both agree that it’s not working very well.

Zachary Coseglia: For sure. I want to share another quote from your book on this very point, because this might very well be one of my favorite sentences on ethics, compliance and culture that I’ve read in a while. You write, “A good corporate culture needs purpose as well as profit, role models as well as rules, followers as well as leaders, participation as well as direction, and incentives as well as prohibitions.” That, to me, is like downright Sorkinian.

Alison Taylor: Easy to say, fiendishly difficult to do, of course. I keep coming back to this question about complexity. One of the other things is, employees are taking matters into their own hands. You don’t necessarily have the degree of control that you used to have as a leader. You don’t necessarily have the degree of control, but you certainly don’t have the degree of control over your reputation, over what the public, customers and employees think about you. So, you better get comfortable with questions of influence, with questions of networking, with questions of social skills, with questions of building psychological safety, rather than thinking that all you need to do is tick the box and please the regulator and put rules in place. There’s another set of quotes, and it’s from Hui in the book, where she talks about these kind of ridiculous post-scandal cleanups and zero tolerance efforts that often involve companies putting in place these giant blanket rules. The example she gives is that there was some sort of corporate scandal, and someone in the corporation was proposing to give every employee in the building training about expenses and expense manipulation. She then asked, “How many people in the company have corporate credit cards?” And the answer was about 100. So, we’re also making all this effort to kind of boil the ocean, when we don’t need to boil the ocean, if we just think a little bit more sensibly and strategically.

Hui Chen: That is one of my favorite examples of overdoing things. One of the many things I love about your book as a whole is that it really systematically takes on a lot of these myths, what you call “common clichés, myths, and misunderstandings about responsible business that confuse and paralyze us.” I’m just going to list some of them: “Companies can balance interests of stakeholders. Environmental and social responsibilities are good for the bottom line. Business ethics equals not breaking the law. Responsible business isn’t about politics. Transparency drives accountability. Becoming an ethical company is about removing bad apples.” Here’s one of my favorites, of course: “It’s all about tone at the top. Zero tolerance. Employees should have the courage to speak up. And the notion of bringing your whole self to work and aligning job with personal values.”

Alison Taylor: I wonder if a lot of people out there are thinking, “What’s wrong with that? It is all about tone at the top. Employees should have the courage to speak up about what’s right.” So, these myths, I’m not saying they’re completely untrue, but we kind of parrot this stuff without interrogating it or thinking about the longer-term consequences. I’ll take one of those examples, “Employees should have the courage to speak up about what’s right.” Why are we placing all the burden on employees to have courage, rather than asking why organizations put employees in a situation where speaking up requires such an extraordinary amount of courage. And then, because we put employees in that situation where we don’t believe in whistleblowing lines and we don’t believe they’re confidential, the other unintended consequences of this are that young employees are not calling the whistleblowing line anymore—they’re leaking damaging information onto social media, and they’re hoping that the public and other employees will get angry and hold companies accountable in that way. Our narrow framing on speaking up, our treatment of it, is just identifying problems that are in the company’s self-interest and has now got completely out of hand and morphed into a completely different form, and so, we need to rethink speaking up. That’s just one example, but obviously, I have a chapter on each of these examples.

Zachary Coseglia: In addition to the work that we do in compliance and compliance culture, we do a lot of work just in organizational culture more broadly, including in the DEI space, so I’d love to hear you talk a little bit more about the employees bringing their full self to work.

Alison Taylor: I understand where the idea of bringing your whole self to work comes from—it’s a big tenet of the diversity and inclusion movement. If you do not have psychological safety, it might well result from you having to hide certain aspects of your social identity. You maybe cannot talk about your sexuality at work—that would be one obvious example. You’re hiding some aspect of your background or culture to try and fit in with something else. So, the idea that you should be able to bring your whole self to work, be your whole self, be a full human, not be a robot automaton is positive and healthy. Where it starts to become less positive and healthy, I think, is when I hear young people mapping their entire identity onto the corporation. I hear, “I need the corporation to reflect my personal values. I need my manager to be taking care of my mental health 24/7. I need to be able to say exactly what I would say at home. If I’m feeling burned out, and I don’t feel like completing that task, I should be able to say so, and my manager should be able to look after me.” There was an extraordinary article in Harvard Business Review a few months ago arguing that managers should be prepared to intervene in an employee mental health crisis and provide cognitive behavioral therapy on the spot. I’m sorry—those managers are also overseeing performance, and they also have the choice to fire those employees. I’m not sure that the person managing your performance ought to be providing therapy on the side, so I think we’ve got into this really dangerous situation. It’s really hitting middle managers, who are being told, “Drive performance, get the results, make sure you don’t have any layoffs, stat rank, but also, make sure employees feel comfortable, look after their mental health, give them paid time off, and prioritize their well-being.” You can’t do all those things. So, I’m not saying it’s bad, the notion of bringing your whole self to work—I’m just saying, the way it’s being applied, the way it is playing out is maybe having unintended consequences, especially for young employees that may not understand exactly how these dynamics work.

Hui Chen: This reminds me of another incident that you relate in your book that illustrates this point about the mapping of corporate identity, not just for corporate employees, but for consumers out there, as well. In the spring of 2022, you watched a speaker from a sustainability branding firm talk about Gen-Z consumers, and he showed a video of young people expressing concerns about climate change, racism, and human rights. In one of these videos, a 19-year-old said that she would sometimes boycott a brand, “even if it’s inconvenient.” You got more disturbed as you were listening to this young person’s video, and this is what you said: “It did not seem that the young people in the video had ever looked into the root causes of the problems that concerned them. Worse, they have concluded that pressuring brands or their employers to take action would be a faster, more productive route to achieving political goals than voting or engaging in civic activity.”

Alison Taylor: I’m assuming you both remember the ‘90s—brand had a style or an aesthetic. Now, we say brands have values. Brands stand for things. Brands should take positions. And I just worry about the degradation of our political process. I worry that corporations have taken on and suggested they can solve problems that they cannot in fact solve—that’s causing huge problems for them. You still need to run a business and make a profit. I have this quote in my introduction where somebody says, “Running a business is now table stakes”—kind of meaning that the core activities of the business making money have become secondary to this notion of what social and political pressures we respond to. So, I think we just need to take a step back and ask whether a for-profit entity is the right kind of entity to solve some of these problems, and we need to really ask some other questions about how exactly we got here.

Zachary Coseglia: It’s an interesting idea, Alison, but I wonder, to what extent is it the 19-year-old who’s looking to the company for change, and how much of it is the company looking to that 19-year-old and determining, “This is what they expect from me, and so, knowing my customer requires me to take these approaches”?

Alison Taylor: I would tell a slightly different story, which is that during the Trump administration, as we all know and remember, companies got massively more drawn into taking positions on these issues, and it initially looked like upside. Trump pulls out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and business leaders say, “We’re still in the Paris Climate Agreement.” Upside—making stakeholders happy. Trump puts in place this “Muslim ban,” and Silicon Valley CEOs stand up for open immigration. Upside—why would a business not stand up for open immigration? There’s an extraordinary volume of surveys, notably the Edelman Trust Barometer, saying, “The public now wants and expects CEOs to stand up on controversial social and political questions.” The New York Times says, “CEO activism is the new normal.” And this all looked fantastic. The problem, I think, is, once as a leader you’ve said all this stuff, you’ve kind of opened the Overton window—you’ve opened up a space for negotiation and debate with your employees that didn’t used to exist. So, once you’ve said, “I care about things other than shareholder value—I feel I need to have a social responsibility as well as make a profit,” it’s very hard then when employees start to say, “I need you to do something about reproductive rights or gun control or whatever it is,” to say, “I didn’t mean it—now I just care about shareholder value.”

Hui Chen: It’s interesting, because your answer to that—you’ve mentioned it earlier and you talk about it extensively in the book—is really instead of trying to hit every issue for everybody, focus on your company’s impact on human beings and on the earth. What do you think would be the resistance to the kind of focus that you’re advocating?

Alison Taylor: There are so many sources. I was doing an interview with somebody else, and I said, “Companies should focus on one to three problems they can actually solve.” And the person interviewing me was, like, “But what about all the stakeholders that want these things?” The other thing, of course, is the ESG reporting pressure—it incentivizes all this disclosure, ticking the box on 50 things, and all these things are a priority. We set too many long-term, vague, overpromising goals. We need to focus.” So, I tend to think the world is aligning behind me, but there’s all this pressure from compliance, reporting, regulators, and investors to tick the box and suggest you’re solving all these problems, because if you dare to go out there and say that “I don’t have a dog in the fight, and this isn’t an issue relevant to my business,” you’re going to upset someone.

Zachary Coseglia: You talk in your book about how organizational boundaries are dissolving. The work from home concept and controversy at times, I think, is on a lot of people’s minds. I’d love to hear you talk about the impact that that has or that you’ve seen have on culture generally. And then, I’d like to talk a little bit more about the impact on compliance and ethics considerations from a cultural perspective.

Alison Taylor: At the beginning of the pandemic, we all knew each other—and then, we moved onto Zoom and we knew each other. Now, there are people that get hired, you can work with someone for three or four years, and you never meet them physically. Certainly, norms, leadership and socialization are still happening remotely, but it’s not happening as securely—it’s not happening in such a concrete way. Perhaps in-group and out-group dynamics can get exacerbated with remote work. One thing I heard that was really interesting from a corporate leader in New York is that the Millennials in his firm won’t go into the office—they’re in Brooklyn, they’ve got young kids, and they’ve got a lot of problems. Gen-Z’s still going in because they want free food, they want to learn their jobs, and they’re there for advancing much faster than the Millennials. To your question about ethics and compliance specifically, there’s interesting evidence both that whistleblowing has increased—because if your boss isn’t breathing down your neck it’s much easier to report him or her and feel there’s no consequence without getting intimidated—and retaliation has also increased. So, I think these kinds of weaker social bonds are having really interesting dynamic impacts on corporate ethics.

Zachary Coseglia: I have another question. You write, “Compliance officers quickly learn that if they want credit from regulators for running a good program, by far the safest approach is not to focus on effectiveness but to copy everyone else.” A lot of the folks who are listening may well be ones who focus on what everyone else is doing—it’s hard not to. What do you say to those folks?

Alison Taylor: If you talk to a regulator, they’re deeply frustrated by the situation. They would actually like you to do a proper risk assessment and have the courage to deploy your resources, think in a sensible way, and give employees enough rules that they can maybe grasp them—not so many crazy, vague rules no one can remember. You need to give your employees some way to exercise their ethical judgment. I think compliance officers often feel, “If a tool out there exists, I need to use it or I’m going to get in trouble with the regulators.” We see this huge advance in all these tools to monitor employees’ emails and how much they’re at their computer. I had a student who went in for an end-of-year performance review, and his boss said, “We’ve been monitoring your emails all year and how much time you’re doing it, and it’s factored into your performance assessment.” If you think that’s going to drive a good, trusting culture and make that employee feel they’re being treated fairly, then I’ve got some swampland to sell you in Florida—this is not going to work.

Zachary Coseglia: Alison, any other Better Ways that you want to share that you’ve observed or experienced in your journey?

Alison Taylor: There’s so many. I think a lot could be achieved just if leaders in businesses would have the courage to admit when they don’t know. “I don’t know. What do you think?” Why is that such a hard phrase?

Zachary Coseglia: Love that. All right, it’s time for us now to get to know you better. We are going to ask you the Better Way? questionnaire. The first question and the second question, you actually get your choice, so you can answer one of these two questions. The first is: If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any quality or ability, what would it be?” Or: Is there a quality about yourself that you’re currently working on to improve? If so, what?

Alison Taylor: I’m going to take the first one, and when I first saw this question, I thought, “I’d like to be an amazing singer and dancer and musician,” because I’m not—I’ve got a tin ear and I can’t sing. But then, I thought about it for a few more seconds, and I was, like, “What I would actually really like is to be brilliant at languages and speak 20 languages, and to be able to move around and seamlessly communicate and hear and translate what everyone is saying.”

Hui Chen: Alison, this is one of the many reasons why we get along. When I was asked that question, my answer was, “I wish I could be an opera singer.” At one point in my life, I had said this to a friend of mine, and he said, “Why?” I said, “Because opera singers know many languages—they have to learn these operas in different languages.” And he said, “I’ve got news for you: You can learn languages without being an opera singer.”

Alison Taylor: That’s so funny. One of my best friends actually is a former opera singer, so I get her to sing to me, and then I feel even more embarrassed about my terrible singing voice. But it’s nice, because she sounds beautiful.

Hui Chen: That’s pretty cool. So, I get to ask the second question, which is also a choice of two. You can answer: Who is your favorite mentor? Or: Who do you wish you could be mentored by?

Alison Taylor: This is a really hard question, because I know so many extraordinary women. Ellen Hunt, big in compliance. Really you, Hui. Karina Litvak, amazing board director. Lisa Osofsky, who headed the SFO. There are women I work with at Stern on the faculty, who are amazingly inspirational to me. I had a stepmother who was like the youngest headmistress in Britain, and she was incredibly dynamic and energetic. She was a beautiful cook. She was really sociable. And she taught me a lot about confidence and voice and energy, and just saying what you think and not letting the bastards grind you down. So, I’m going to go with her. She was called Nancy—she was my stepmother. Lost her a long time ago, but she was an amazing mentor to me.

Zachary Coseglia: Love that. Question number three: What is the best job, paid or unpaid that you’ve ever had?

Alison Taylor: Teaching. I come from a family of teachers and academics, so I grew up around high school teachers. My brother is a high school teacher in a really problematic school in London at the moment. As a child, I was, like, “That looks awful. Why would I want to do that? I’m going to go and work in business.” Then, I get to middle age, and I think, “Maybe I want to be in the classroom.” And then I get in the classroom, and I’m, like, “Wow, it’s actually something I’m quite good at, and the students seem to like me.” So, I find teaching extraordinarily rewarding. What I love about it is I can say something in the classroom, and then I read the final papers and it’s like I had 60 one-on-one conversations with every student in the room to hear their reflections, reactions, know that they listened, and they understood what I was trying to say. It’s so rewarding—it gives me such a buzz.

Hui Chen: That’s so awesome, but it leads me to have to preface my next question, which is aside from teaching, what is your favorite thing to do?

Alison Taylor: Hiking in the woods. I have a house in the Catskills about two hours north of New York, and I think there is nothing better for your mental health than to go out there, no mobile phone reception, be around birds, trees, mountains, and just get lost. It’s just an incredible thing to do, and I hope to keep doing it as long as possible.

Zachary Coseglia: This may be a preview for question number five, which is what is your favorite place?

Alison Taylor: It’s my house there—it’s near Woodstock, New York. It’s famous from the festival, though the festival wasn’t actually there. So, I have this house on a stream, with some trees, and a patio. It is absolutely beautiful. It’s super remote. I have lovely neighbors. What could be better?

Hui Chen: What makes you proud?

Alison Taylor: What makes me excited is if I put an idea out there, either in the classroom, in the public domain, or maybe in this book, and I feel it resonates—I can see someone saying, “This reminds me of something in my life, and now I can apply it and come up with a new idea.” So, it’s the idea of someone taking something I’ve said or an idea I’ve put out there and developing it, taking it further, spinning it in a new way, and providing a new interpretation I didn’t think of when I put the original idea out there. That is a real buzz for me and makes me feel that I have some value in the world.

Zachary Coseglia: That’s all deep, and the next question is very much not. Question number seven is: What email sign-off do you use most frequently?

Alison Taylor: I usually say, “Cheers,” which is very British. I suppose if people don’t know I’m British, they may wonder why I say that. So, either “Cheers” or no sign-off at all.

Hui Chen: What trend in your field is most overrated?

Alison Taylor: Disclosure will solve all the problems out there. Disclosure leads automatically to accountability. We never think about the receiver of the information. I don’t know about you, but I often find myself in the supermarket wondering, “What coffee should I buy? Bird friendly, shade grown, organic, roasted, fair trade?” We are overwhelming consumers, regulators, investors with all this information, and we think that’s magically going to solve our problems. I’m certainly not saying transparency is bad, but the power of transparency to solve all our intractable problems is deeply overrated, as far as I’m concerned.

Zachary Coseglia: All right, we’re at the last question, which is what word would you use to describe your day so far?

Alison Taylor: It has been “blissfully chill.” That’s two words. I’ve been catching up on some stuff, getting a bit of a chance to write, so this is the perfect way to close it out.

Zachary Coseglia: Alison, thank you so much for joining us on the Better Way? podcast. Anything else you want to leave our listeners with?

Alison Taylor: I just want to say, it’s an absolute delight to talk to you both and hope we can continue the conversation soon. And thank you so much for reading my book. I’m just delighted and grateful that you read my book and had all these specific quotes and prepared so well. It’s really lovely and wonderful, and I’m deeply grateful.

Hui Chen: We should mention that if people want to preorder your book, they can do so at Amazon, I assume?

Alison Taylor: Yes, anywhere: Bookshop.org, Amazon. And there are attractive bulk discounts—people can get in touch with me on that, if they are interested in something more corporate level.

Zach Coseglia: Terrific. Thank you, Alison. And thank you all for tuning in to the Better Way? podcast and exploring all of these Better Ways with us. For more information about this or anything else that’s happening with R&G Insights Lab, please visit our website at www.ropesgray.com/rginsightslab. You can also subscribe to this series wherever you regularly listen to podcasts, including on Apple, Google, and Spotify. And, if you have thoughts about what we talked about today, the work the Lab does, or just have ideas for Better Ways we should explore, please don’t hesitate to reach out—we’d love to hear from you. Thanks again for listening.