Sunday, February 11, 2007

Conflict of interest

As a service provider, it is in my interest to have people hire me for my services.
This is true even if I am not the best service provider qualified.

But, in order to provide the best possible service, I have to be able to recognize how someone will be best served, and I have to provide them with that knowledge.

Recently I told someone they made the right choice in not hiring me.
They wrote back that I shouldn't take it personally.
I want to tell them "really, I didn't take it personally; I believed you made the right choice."
But why?

Sometimes it's easy to pass on a project--even an enjoyable one--for various reasons.
But the conflict of interest is a subtle, insidious thing: in cases that are not clearly defined,
it is easy to rationalize, or to fail to see important aspects of the conflict of interest.
It's easy to say "I'm looking for a win-win situation--we'll both profit from an arrangement."

Of course, every service provider arrangement is founded on a conflict of interest: the provider has two conflicting interests: to provide the best service, including the best price for the service (the interest of the client), and to receive as much compensation as possible (the interest of the provider).

But that would be unfairly limiting this problem to the realm of capitalism--and this isn't a political matter--it is a natural human condition.
The basic problem of whether to have one cookie now or two later is inherently one of a conflict in internal interests: having a cookie now is a good thing; having two later is also a good thing. The two interests conflict.

As a graduate student writing a dissertation and thesis one has conflict interests: finishing quickly and producing the best product.

We do not usually talk of such internal conflicts as conflicts of interest; typically a conflict of interest is discussed where there are multiple parties involved.
When you add additional parties to the equation it only gets more complicated.
Then the interests of the different parties are likely to conflict--even if the different parties are working towards a shared goal.
The extreme example of this is the person who sacrifices his or her life for others: the interest of the individual is at odds with the interest of the group.

We hold up as noble those who choose the interest of the other over the interest for themselves.

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