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The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: Why We Lie to Everyone, Especially Ourselves

The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: Why We Lie to Everyone, Especially Ourselves. By Dan Ariely. Harper Collins,; 304 pages; $26.99; also available as e-book.

Easy-to-read and often humorous, Dan Ariely’s The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty is highly relevant for security managers, notwithstanding its breezy style. Readers will come away with an understanding of the drivers of dishonesty and how to restructure the environment for better security.

The book offers numerous examples of people’s receptivity to engaging in dishonesty, cheating, conflicts of interest, and deception, as well as their innate ability to rationalize such behaviors. One outcome is that a fairly large hole is blown in the classical school of criminology and its assumptions about deterrence and prevention.

Ariely debunks “the simple model of rational crime,” or SMOC, which postulates that people will weigh the risk versus the reward before they cheat. One problem with this model, according to Ariely, is that it ignores the fact that dishonesty is contagious. That means that a few bad apples really can spoil the barrel. And that leads to the other problem, which is that once there is the strength of numbers, dishonesty can undo a business.

After recounting experiments and personal anecdotes, the book concludes that, among other things, monitoring works. Reminders about being honest can prevent dishonesty. For security managers, this means it pays to have frequent, short security awareness messages, posters, and events, rather than a few long briefings.

Other interesting points raised concern ego depletion, revenge, and how people can slide into destructive ways. Another relevant finding—that Cokes are stolen more than cash—illustrates that the farther away an asset is from being cash, the more likely it is to be lost through theft. For those engaged in protecting information assets—from trade secrets to national security information—this finding is disturbing. Presumably, as we come closer to a cashless society where so-called financial products have become more complex, obscure, and less related to actual money, people may be more apt to be dishonest.

One weakness is the chapter on self-deception, which fails to explain why and how people see what they wish to see. Other books that have dealt well with this subject include How We Know What Isn’t So by Thomas Gilovich and Psychology of Intelligence Analysis by Richards Heuer. Both are highly recommended.

Overall, this work is entertaining and important at the same time. It is recommended reading for security practitioners because it presents an insightful, evidence-based portrayal of human frailties, and its lessons can be applied to security.

Reviewers: Lydia Wilson, CPP, is an attorney in Northern Virginia and serves on the ASIS Information Asset Protection and Pre-Employment Screening Council. Michael D. Moberly is president and founder of Knowledge Protection Strategies; he chairs the Information Asset Protection and Pre-Employment Screening Council.