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Teaching activity

Save the baby or the painting?! A great starter on short-termism!

Michael Albanese

6th November 2016

Courtesy of the Will MacAskill, Professor of Philosophy at Oxford University and author of Doing Good Better, this is an excellent way to introduce decision-making, short-termism and CSR. The question is simple; there is a burning house, in it is a baby a Picasso masterpiece. Which do you save? As I suspect most of you are decent-ish human beings, you’ll choose the baby. However, the good professor makes a strong case for the painting, explaining how if our motives are to be good, then by ignoring our emotional instincts, we could save infinitely more lives if we save the painting, sell it and then use the millions to buy malaria tablets for sick children.

This PowerPoint promoted some great discussion amongst my students, most of whom conceded that their motives weren’t altogether altruistic, as being “the hero who saved the baby” wouldn’t harm the self-esteem and reputation! We then applied this to business scenarios where the seemingly obvious choice didn’t reap the long-term benefits of the alternative.

Hope it helps

Michael Albanese

Assistant Curriculum Lead for Business and Law at Solihull Sixth Form College

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