In the 2008 movie Flash of Genius, Greg Kinnear portrays an American inventor by the name of Robert Kearns.  Kearns is best known for taking on the Ford company for infringing on his patent for the intermittent windshield wipper.  Kearns’ struggle for many years was not for the sake of money but for recognition.  He could not stand the fact that somebody else was taking credit for work he had done and for an invention he had created.  The movie is not only engaging but also offers a great deal of lessons on business ethics.

One lesson that resonated with me is the fact that competence in a given profession is not the same as acting ethically.  One can demonstrate a great deal of competence and indeed help his/her organization achieve great success, yet fall far short of being ethical.  In the opening scene of the movie Kearns explains the difference by highlighting the fact that both the person who invented devices to fix human hearts and the person who invented the gas chamber were engineers.  He explained that while they were both competent engineers, there was a huge difference in their action as one saved lives while the other destroyed them.  Kearns makes a great point by saying that for most of us the choices we are presented with are not as extreme as the two examples he gave.  That is a very important issue as sometimes we might be faced with a choice which we may not even consider from an ethical perspective.

Another interesting discussion in the movie was related to the difference between a good idea versus a good product.  We often make an assumption that a good idea would make a good product.  The reality of the matter is that there is a great deal of hard work that has to be done to bring the idea to fruition and in some instances we discover that the idea would not make a good product. What I like about this issue is the implicit reminder that a profession such as project management plays a great role in turning good ideals into good product.  This is why it is so important that we take time to give appropriate credit to the people who come up with ideas.

Sometimes it is not easy to recognize that we stand on other people’s shoulders and that our creations are not ones that come out of thin air but rather are based on someone else’s work/tools. Great project managers in my opinion are those who are able to remind the team of the contribution of each team member and of the ideas that were used to help make the project a success. Here again this is not a matter of money but a matter of professional conduct and doing the right thing.