The curse of being blind to illegal acts or omissions

BEYOND BUZZWORDS REY ELBO Rey Elbo is a business consultant on human resources and total quality management. Have a consulting chat with him on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter or send your feedback to or via



The Manila Times

Business Times

ALBERT , your neighbor alleges a conflict of interest issue against Freddie, the current homeowners’ association president who owns a hardware store. All Materials needed in construction and repair work inside the gated subdivision, even the unnecessary ones are being bought from his hardware store without the benefit of a simple canvassing process. And worse, Freddie’s receipts are not official receipts. Their receipts are the ones that can be bought elsewhere at $2 per booklet of 50 sets. Another issue, all items purchased were in coded numbers. There’s no description of the items bought making it difficult for people to check if the price is reasonable. You tried to play a mind game with Albert: “What’s preventing you from stopping the alleged irregularity?” There was no answer. It turns out that Albert owes the association more than $1,000 which remains unpaid since three years ago. When pressed for an answer, Albert claims it’s due to Freddie corruption as the only reason why he’s not paying. This brings us to the right question: Which has committed the most serious offense — Albert’s omission of not paying his homeowners dues or Freddie’s act of cheating the homeowners’ association? Both Appears to be undesirable members of the homeowners’ association. However, Albert says he’s not entirely closing the door of becoming a member of good standing by paying his overdue fees as soon as changes are made. Freddie, on the other hand, may reject the accusation, much less return the money to the association for fear of admitting his mistakes. You may think that Freddie has the gravest sin of all. But how could you ignore Albert who did nothing to stop the bleeding of the association’s coffers that ballooned to an estimated loot of $13,000 with the help of Freddie’s subservient auditor? Omission bias Who has the greatest sin of all? Some people may even blame Albert for keeping silent until recently when Freddie’s loot has gone up. We heard it before: “Evil men flourish when good men do nothing.” In behavioral economics, psychology and sociology, this occurrence is called omission bias. Omission bias or simply an inaction is everywhere. Even the Bible talks about it in The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-31) when Jesus told a story of a priest who saw a man on the road who was attacked and seriously wounded by robbers. When the priest saw the victim on the road, he ignored him and passed by the other side. Another example of omission bias is related to today’s Covid-19, like when parents refuse to vaccinate their children because of its perceived adverse effects. Never mind that there are numerous medical studies proving the efficacy of vaccines can prevent serious ailment or death. The omission bias makes people pursue a wrong and immoral decision at times brought about by fear. Let’s say you’re in a bus which has enough seats for everyone. You wonder why there are three shabbily-dressed males who stood near a seated young woman. You noticed one of them is shooting a smartphone video directed to the woman who is wearing a low neckline. It is a clear sign of voyeurism. Would you stop the man? Chances are, you may ignore it and pretend no untoward incident is happening. But what if the young woman is your daughter, sister or wife? What would you do? Action bias The opposite of omission bias is action bias. People do what’s necessary when their life or limb is threatened or when it involves their family members. At times, action bias comes into place when they feel their job security is no longer possible given the many changes brought about by the pandemic or other circumstances. In their 1982 best-selling opus In Search of Excellence. Tom Peters and Robert Waterman advocated for “a bias for action” as one of the lessons they learned when they interviewed many American top executives in successful organizations. The idea for “a bias for action” is simple. It calls for doing something and anything progressively rather than be paralyzed by voluminous reports, attending meetings and staying longer in the office like a dutiful Japanese worker. Take the case of one person I know from way back in the corporate world. He was stuck in his job as a supervisor and was hoping against all hopes to secure a managerial post. After all, he was in that job for more than seven years already. Our working hours were up to 5:30 pm and yet this person would normally stay in the office until 7:00 pm without asking for overtime work payment under the mistaken belief that staying in the office longer than other workers would endear him to the boss. This happened a long time ago when the internet and social media were not yet in vogue. When the boss talked to him about it, he was too shy to admit he had taken enough time to do his job because of a complex work process that he failed to solve if not simplify. Looking back, I knew what was ailing our organization which could be summarized by the oft-repeated slogan credited to Taiichi Ohno (1912-1990), co-creator of the Toyota Production System — “Having no problems is the biggest problem of all.”