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Ethics, maturity and incentives: plotting on Peak Paradox.

Ethics, maturity and incentives may not appear obvious or natural bedfellows. However, if someone else’s incentives drive you, you are likely on a journey from immaturity to Peak Paradox. A road from Peak Paradox towards a purpose looks like maturity as your own incentives drive you. Of note, ethics change depending on the direction of travel.


In psychology, maturity can be operationally defined as the level of psychological functioning one can attain, after which the level of psychological functioning no longer increases with age. Maturity is the state, fact, or period of being mature.

Whilst immature is not fully developed or has an emotional or intellectual development appropriate to someone younger, I want to use the state of immaturity, which is the state where one is not fully mature.

Incentives are a thing that motivates or encourages someone to do something.

Peak Paradox is where you try to optimise for everything but cannot achieve anything as you do not know what drives you and are constantly conflicted.

Ethics is a branch of philosophy that "involves systematising, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behaviour". Ethical and moral principles govern a person's behaviour.

The Peak Paradox framework is below.

When we start our life journey, we travel from being immature to mature. Depending on your context, e.g. location, economics, social, political and legal, you will naturally be associated with one of the four Peak Purposes. It might not be extreme, but you will be framed towards one of them (bias). This is the context you are in before determining your own purpose, mission or vision. Being born in a place with little food and water, there is a natural affinity to survival. Being born in a community that values everyone and everything, you will naturally align to a big society. Born to the family of a senior leader in a global industry, you will be framed to a particular model. Being a child of Murdoch, Musk, Zuckerberg, Trump, Putin, Rothschild, Gates, etc. - requires assimilation to a set of beliefs.

Children of celebrities break from what the parents think, as have we and as do our children. Politics and religious chats with teenagers are always enlightening. As children, we travel from the contextual purpose we are born into and typically head towards reaching Peak Paradox - on this journey, we are immature. (note, it is possible to go the other way and become more extreme in purpose than your parents.) Later in life and with the benefits of maturity, we observe this journey from the simplicity of binary choices (black and white ethics) towards a more nuanced mess at Peak Paradox. At Peak Paradox, we sense a struggle to make sense of the different optimisations, drivers, purposes, incentives, rewards that others have. This creates anxiety, tension and conflict within us. During this journey from a given purpose to Peak Paradox, the incentives given to you are designed to maintain the original purpose, to keep you following that ideal. Incentive frame and keep us in a model which is sometimes hard to break.

It is only when we live with complexity and are able to appreciate others' purposes, optimisations, and drivers that we will also gain clarity on our own passion, purpose or mission. By living with Peak Paradox, we change from being driven by others' incentives to uncovering our own affinity; this is where we start to align to what we naturally believe in and find what fits our skin.

Enter Ethics

Suppose maturity is the transition from our actions being determined by others and following their ethical or moral code to determining what type of world or society we want to be part of. In that case, we need to think about the two journeys.

On the route from birth to Peak Paradox, I have framed this as a route from immaturity to living with complexity. On the route in, we live by others' moral and ethical codes and are driven by their incentives. As we leave Peak Paradox and head to a place where we find less tension, conflicts and anxiety, which has a natural affinity to what we believe, and we create our own moral and ethical compass/ code and become driven by our own motivations.

We should take a fresh perspective on ethics and first determine which direction someone is heading before we make a judgement. This is increasingly important in #cyberethics and #digitalethics as we only see the point and have no ability to create a bearing or direction.

The purpose of Peak Paradox

As maturity heads towards being mature, we move in and out of living at Peak Paradox from different “Purposes” I am sure this is an iterative process. The purpose of Peak Paradox is to be in a place where you are comfortable with complexity, but it is not a place to stay. It is like a holiday home, good to go there now and again, but it does not represent life. The question we have is how do we know when we are at Peak Paradox, probably because our north star has become a black hole! The key message here is that some never escape the Peak Paradox black hole, finding they live in turmoil driven by others' incentives that are designed to keep you there) and never finding their own passion, incentive or motivation. The complexity death vortex is where you endlessly search for a never reachable explanation of everything as it is all too interconnected and interdependent to unravel. Leaders come out from Peak Paradox knowing why they have a purpose and a direction.

The Journey

Imagine you are born into a celebrity household, over time you see the world is more complicated, you work for a company believing that money bonuses and incentives matter. Over time you come to understand the tensions such a narrow view brings. You search for something better, committing to living a simpler life, changing your ethics and moral code. This still creates tension, and you search for peace and harmony, where you find less tension and more alignment; when you arrive there, you have a unique code because you live with complexity and understand different optimisations. It does not scale, and few can grasp your message.

Where are you on the journey?

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