Many of us have heard of the salacious AshleyMadison.com, an internet resource platform for people seeking extramarital affairs. In 2015, the Ashley Madison website was hacked and gigabytes of scandalous information was released to the public. Interestingly, many of the exposed accounts were registered with corporate email addresses. This provided an opportunity to make comparisons between Ashley Madison activity and corporate behavior within the companies where account holders worked.
In an article cleverly entitled 50 Shades of Corporate Culture, researchers found corporations which fostered a culture of innovation and risk-taking had the most Ashley Madison accounts. These were companies with business models built around rapid financial cycles and cut throat competition. The research also showed that high rates of Ashley Madison account ownership strongly predicted corporate tax disputes, lawsuits, product quality concerns, and financial misstates due to bribery, fraud, and inflated earnings. These findings built upon research conducted four years earlier, where Harvard business scientists described “the dark side of creativity.” Turns out inventive individuals show a propensity toward dishonest behavior.
President Trump was elected by an impatient group of citizens to change government using his wealth building ingenuity. There are certainly many historical examples where Trump skirted the rules to avoid an obstruction or to cash in on profits. One example of this involved a financial crisis at Trump’s Taj Mahal. The casino was on the verge of missing a critical bond payment when father Fred walked into the casino and bought 3.5 million dollars worth of chips and walked out without gambling. This action immediately put money on the books to pay the bond debt (Trump was later assessed a $30,000 fine by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement for this illegal loan). Trump came up with a creative solution to get around an obstacle.
As we would expect in the life of a very creative person, there are also many articles about Mr. Trump’s pre-POTUS years as a man who has lived his personal life outside the box. The dark side of creativity is evident. Professionally, Trump has evidenced cycles of dizzying success followed by bankruptcy and reorganization. We have also seen tax disputes, lawsuits, product quality concerns, and financial misstates. Personally, Trump has had high profile affairs and failed marriages.
And who does Trump surround himself with? Other ingenious individuals who see opportunities to cash in on their seats at the White House. Jared Kushner aiding his family’s real estate business, Stephen Bannon hanging on at Breitbart News, Ivanka Trump hawking jewelry, and General Michael Flynn working deals for his consulting firm during the Trump transition. Trump fills his executive stable with business people who live their lives outside the box.
From the Ashley Madison study, there were corporations which had very few accounts. They came from industries which favor slower paced business models where steady, smooth operations yield the best profits. These included fabricated products, mining, shipbuilding, railroad equipment, textiles, rubber/plastic products, and coal. The federal government might best be compared to these corporations. There’s a place for some ingenuity, but steady and smooth operations yield the best results.
Trump is the lead engine of a federal freight train pulling 110 cars. He wants to use his ingenuity to suddenly change course, and he’s getting frustrated that flashy moments of deal making aren’t impacting the speed and direction of the load.
For those worried about a train wreck, we have two things going our way: inertia and the inevitability of serial scandals due to the dark side of Trump’s creativity.