Home > Articles

Winners Never Cheat: Lessons from the Sandbox

With moral compasses programmed in the sandboxes of long ago, we can navigate career courses with values that guarantee successful lives.
This chapter is from the book
  • Everything we need for today’s marketplace we learned as kids.

Growing up poor in rural Idaho, I was taught to play by the rules. Be tough, be competitive, give the game all you have—but do it fairly. They were simple values that formed a basis for how families, neighborhoods, and communities behaved. My two brothers and I had something in common with the kids on the upscale side of the tracks: a value system learned in homes, sandboxes, playgrounds, classrooms, Sunday schools, and athletic fields.

Those values did not lose their legitimacy when I became a player in the business world. Yet they are missing in segments of today’s marketplace. Wall Street overdoses on greed. Corporate lawyers make fortunes by manipulating contracts and finding ways out of signed deals. Many CEOs enjoy princely lifestyles even as stakeholders lose their jobs, pensions, benefits, investments, and trust in the American way.

Cooked ledgers, irresponsibility, look-the-other-way auditors, kickbacks, and flimflams of every sort have burrowed into today’s corporate climate. Many outside corporate directors bask in perks and fees, concerned only in keeping Wall Street happy and their fees intact.

In the past 20 years, investor greed has become obsessive and a force with which CEOs must deal. Public companies are pushed for higher and higher quarterly performances lest shareholders rebel. Less-than-honest financial reports are tempting when the market penalizes flat performances and candid accounting. Wall Street consistently signals that it is comfortable with the lucrative lie.

Although I focus much of my advice on business-oriented activities, the world I know best, these principles are equally applicable to professionals of all stripes and at all levels, not to mention parents, students, and people of goodwill everywhere.

In the 2004 U.S. presidential election, morality issues influenced more votes than any other factor, but a Zogby International poll revealed that the single biggest moral issue in voters’ minds was not abortion or same-sex marriage. Greed and materialism far and away was cited as the most urgent moral problem facing America today. (A close second was poverty/economic justice.)

In nearly a half century of engaging in some sort of business enterprise, I have seen it all. I continue to ask myself, perhaps naively so, why lying, cheating, misrepresentation, and weaseling on deals have ingrained themselves so deeply in society? Could it be that material success is now viewed to be more virtuous than how one obtains that success? One might even be tempted to believe that the near-sacred American Dream is unobtainable without resorting to moral mischief and malfeasance. To that I say, “Nonsense.” Cutting ethical corners is the antithesis of the American Dream. Each dreamer is provided with an opportunity to participate on a playing field made level by honor, hard work, and integrity.

In spite of its selectivity and flaws, the American Dream remains a uniquely powerful and defining force. The allure stands strong and self-renewing, but never as feverish as in pursuit of material gain. Achieving your dream requires sweat, courage, commitment, talent, integrity, vision, faith, and a few breaks.

The ability to start a business from scratch, the opportunity to lead that company to greatness, the entrepreneurial freedom to bet the farm on a roll of the marketplace dice, the chance to rise from clerk to CEO are the feedstock of America’s economic greatness.

The dot-com boom of the 1990s, although ultimately falling victim to hyperventilation, is proof that classrooms, garages, and basement workshops, crammed with doodlings and daydreams, are the petri dishes of the entrepreneurial dream. In many ways, it has never been easier to make money—or to ignore traditional moral values in doing so.

Throughout this nation’s history, a spontaneous and unfettered marketplace has produced thundering examples of virtue and vice—not surprising in that very human heroes and villains populate the business landscape. Yet, a new void in values has produced a level of deception, betrayal, and indecency so brazen as to be breathtaking.

Many of today’s executives and employees—I would like to think the majority—are not engaged in improper behavior. Most of the people I have dealt with in four decades of globetrotting are men and women of integrity and decency, dedicated individuals who look askance at the shady conduct of the minority.

I have known enough business executives, though, who, through greed, arrogance, an unhealthy devotion to Wall Street, or a perverted interpretation of capitalism, have chosen the dark side. Their numbers seem to be growing.

The rationale that everyone fudges, or that you have to cheat to stay competitive, is a powerful lure, to be sure. The path to perdition is enticing, slippery, and all downhill. Moral bankruptcy is the inevitable conclusion.

What’s needed is a booster shot of commonly held moral principles from the playgrounds of our youth. We all know the drills: Be fair, don’t cheat, play hard but decently, share and share alike, tell the truth, keep your word. Although these childhood prescriptions may appear to have been forgotten or lost in the fog of competition, I believe it is more a matter of values being expediently ignored. Whatever the case, it’s time to get into ethical shape with a full-scale behavioral workout program.

Financial ends never justify unethical means. Success comes to those who possess skill, courage, integrity, decency, commitment, and generosity. Men and women who maintain their universally shared values tend to achieve their goals, know happiness in home and work, and find greater purpose in their lives than simply accumulating wealth. Nice guys really can—and do—finish first in life.

I worked as White House staff secretary and a special assistant to the president during the first term of the Nixon administration. I was the funnel through which passed documents going to and from the president’s desk. I also was part of H. R. Haldeman’s “super staff.” As a member of that team, Haldeman expected me to be unquestioning. It annoyed him that I was not. He proffered blind loyalty to Nixon and demanded the same from his staff. I saw how power was abused, and I didn’t buy in. One never has to.

I was asked by Haldeman on one occasion to do something “to help” the president. We were there to serve the president, after all. It seems a certain self-righteous congresswoman was questioning one of Nixon’s nominations to head an agency. There were reports that the nominee had employed undocumented workers in her California business.

Haldeman asked me to check out a factory previously owned by this congressman to see whether the report was true. The facility happened to be located close to my own manufacturing plant in Fullerton, California. Haldeman wanted me to place some of our Latino employees on an under-cover operation at the plant in question. If there had been employment of undocumented immigrants, the information would be used, of course, to embarrass the political adversary.

An amoral atmosphere had penetrated the White House. Meetings with Haldeman were little more than desperate attempts by underlings to be noticed. We were all under the gun to produce solutions. Too many were willing to do just about anything for Haldeman’s nod of approval. That was the pressure that had me picking up the phone to call my plant manager.

There are times when we react too quickly to catch the rightness and wrongness of something immediately. We don’t think it through. This was one of those times. It took about 15 minutes for my inner moral compass to make itself noticed and to swing me to the point that I recognized this wasn’t the right thing to do. Values that had accompanied me since childhood kicked in.

Halfway through my conversation, I paused. “Wait a minute, Jim,” I said deliberately to the general manager of Huntsman Container, “Let’s not do this. I don’t want to play this game. Forget I called.”

I instinctively knew it was wrong, but it took a few minutes for the notion to percolate. I informed Haldeman that I would not have my employees spy or do anything like it. To the second most powerful man in America, I was saying no. He didn’t appreciate responses like that. He viewed them as signs of disloyalty. I might as well have been saying farewell.

So be it, and I did leave within six months of that incident. My streaks of independence, it turned out, were an exercise in good judgment. I was about the only West Wing staff member not eventually hauled before the congressional Watergate committee or a grand jury.

Gray is not a substitute for black and white. You don’t bump into people without saying you’re sorry. When you shake hands, it’s supposed to mean something. If someone is in trouble, you reach out.

Values aren’t to be conveniently molded to fit particular situations. They are indelibly etched in our very beings as natural impulses that never go stale or find themselves out of style.

Some will scoff that this view is an oversimplification in a complex, competitive world. It indeed is simple, but that’s the point! It’s little more than what we learned as kids, what we accepted as correct behavior before today’s pressures tempted us to jettison those values in favor of getting ahead or enhancing personal or corporate financial bottom lines.

Although the values of our youth, at least to some degree, usually are faith-based, they also are encompassed in natural law. Nearly everyone on the planet, for instance, shares the concept of basic human goodness.

Human beings inherently prize honesty over deceit, even in the remotest corners of the globe. In the extreme northeast of India, for example, there lies the semi-primitive state of Arunachal Pradesh. Few of us even know it exists. Indeed, this area is nearly forgotten by New Delhi. More than 100 tribes have their own cultures, languages, and animistic religions. Yet, they share several characteristics, including making honesty an absolute value.

How ironic, not to mention shameful, that the most educated and industrialized nations seem to have the most troublesome time with universal values of integrity, while semi-primitive groups do not.

Michael Josephson, who heads the Josephson Institute of Ethics in Marina del Rey, California, says one only has to view popular shows such as The Apprentice and Survivor to get the notion that life’s winners are those who deceive others without getting caught. Nobody seems offended by that. It’s not so much that temptations are any greater today, Josephson notes, it’s that our defenses have weakened.

Be that as it may, I maintain that each of us knows when basic moral rules are bent or broken. We even are aware when we are approaching an ethical boundary. Whatever the expedient rationale or instant gratification that “justified” stepping over that line, we don’t feel quite right about it because we were taught better.

It is this traditional set of behavioral values that will lead us not into temptation but to long-term success. Forget about who finishes first and who finishes last. Decent, honorable people finish races—and their lives—in grand style and with respect.

The 20th-century explorer Ernest Shackleton, whose legendary, heroic exploits in Antarctica inspired half a dozen books, looked at life as a game to be played fairly and with honor:

  • Life to me is the greatest of all games. The danger lies in treating it as a trivial game, a game to be taken lightly, and a game in which the rules don’t matter much. The rules matter a great deal. The game has to be played fairly or it is no game at all. And even to win the game is not the chief end. The chief end is to win it honorably and splendidly.

The principles we learned as children were simple and fair. They remain simple and fair. With moral compasses programmed in the sandboxes of long ago, we can navigate career courses with values that guarantee successful lives, a path that is good for one’s mental and moral well-being, not to mention long-term material success, if we but check those compasses on a regular basis.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020