Professor Zimbardo performed in 1971 his famous “Stanford Prison Experiment” where he divided randomly students into guards and prisoners. Then he let the participants act in a simulated prison, set up in the basement of the famous university. His theory was that evil places (like the prison scenario) strongly in influence good people (randomly selected students). The results confirmed him, as he had to stop the experiment before the planned end, as both group acted so much based on their roles that the prisoners tried to organize a revolution and the guards answered with cruelty. Later in the 1980s, business consultant W. Edwards Deming concluded that “a bad system will beat a good person every time.”

These are relevant messages for companies, as the business truly became global, and employees have to travel all over the world, including regions with a higher corruption level and / or safety issues. Due do Donald Cressey’s Fraud Triangle, also from ’71, situations of high pressures and temptations.

In sales and project management are mostly success-seekers (in opposite to failure-avoiders) involved, which based on their character and experience tend to overestimate the success rate and underestimate the given risks. These circumstances foster the effect of a tunnel-vision and makes them vulnerable for psychological biases, also known as “Ethical Blindness.”

Especially Formula One, with its speed and focus on the winners, is ideal for a benchmark. A lot of drivers are or had been active in charity. As Michael Schumacher said in an interview: “It matters how I achieve something”. Earlier in the 80s, Ayrton Senna’s team-mate Gerhard Berger described the Brazilian once: “Before the race he read the Bible and in the race he drove over your head. The super successful are all like this.” We can assume that most of the drivers have strong ethical values, but nevertheless we can observe that in the pressure and the “heat of the moment”, individuals act differently.

Companies can learn from these scenarios, including the positive ones. Especially preparation, as the regular driver meetings at the race-weekends, and positive corporate values can prepare drivers and employees, not to give in to these temptations.

An example is the 2017 Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix. After the Saturday Qualification, both Ferrari drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen, started as the favorites from the first grid. On Sunday, both started as expected, Sebastian leading Kimi and Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas. After several laps Sebastian’s car presented a technical problem, as the steering tended to the left. As result, he slowed down and Kimi and the Mercedes competitors could catch up. The Ferrari team management decided that Kimi should stay behind Sebastian to protect him against the Mercedes drivers. This as Sebastian on P1 and Kimi on P2 would be the ideal results for the championship. A difficult situation for Kimi, as he had the possibility to win and furthermore brought up the risk that he could get passed by the two Mercedes drivers.

A strength of this year’s Ferrari team is the positive work atmosphere, based on the corporate values, as passion and excellence. Even if the drivers have key positions inside the team, they are part of the group and live the same values. Kimi presented this in the past, as he understands the strategy (sustainability) and values. As result, he obeyed the strategy, not overtook his team-mate and on the other hand, could concentrate to fight back all attacks by the pushing Luis Hamilton. With this Kimi was the key that the Ferrari strategy worked out.

The deserved result had been that Formula One fans voted for Kimi to be the “Driver of the Day”. Teamwork was not only base for Ferrari’s success this time, but also the Mercedes Team works on this philosophy. Valtteri let Luis pass at one time of the race to give him the opportunity to push both Ferraris and win the race. As this not worked out, Luis let Valtteri pass in the last lap, to give back the favor.

Key take-away: Even if we send individuals into evil places, values & effective corporate systems support them.