Read the below assignment carefullyvery important to me the guarantee for the quality of contents and no plagiarism ,, references alsoassignment is attached for more detailsread the question carefully and answer as per the requirements and the number of words & referencesafter reading the article answer the below carefully1. Identify the relevant facts, pertinent ethical issues, and points of ethical conﬂict. (1.25 Marks)2. Identify the relevant affected parties, the possible consequences of alternative courses of action. (1.25 Marks)3. Identify relevant obligations, the relevant community standards that should guide you as a person of integrity, and Check your gut. (2.5 Marks)Pinto Fires and Personal Ethics:
A Script Analysis of Missed Opportunities
ABSTRACT. This article details the personal involvement of
the author in the early stages of the infamous Pinto fire case.
The paper first presents an insider account of the context
and decision environment within which he failed to initiate
an early recall of defective vehicles. A cognitive script
analysis of the personal experience is then offered as an
explanation of factors that led to a decision that now is
commonly seen as a definitive study in unethical corporate
behavior. IThe main analytical thesis is that script schemas
that were guiding cognition and action at the time pre.cluded consideration of issues in ethical terms because the
scripts did not include ethical dimensions.
In the summer of 1972 I made one of those important tran.sitions in life, the significance of vifhich
becomes obvious only in retrospect. I left academe
with a BS in Engineering Science and an MBA to
enter the world of big business. I joined Ford Motor
Company at World Headquarters in Dearborn
Michigan, fulfilling a long-standing dream to work
in the heart of the auto industry. I felt confident that
I was in the right place at the right time to make a
Dennis A. Gioia is Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior
in the Department of Management and Organization, The
Smeal College ofBusiness Administration, Pennsylvania State
University. Professor Cioia’s primary research and writing focus
of the nature and uses of complex cognitive processes by organization members and the ways that these processes affect sensemaking, communication, influence and organizational change. His
most recent research interests have to do with the less rational,
more intuitive, emotional, and political aspects of organizational
life — thosefascinating arenas where people in organizations tend
to subvert management scholars’ heartfelt attempts to have them
behave more rationally. Prior to this ivory tower career, he worked
in the real world as an engineering aide for Boeing Aerospace at
Kennedy Space Center and as vehicle recall coordinatorfor Ford
Motor Company in Dearbom, Michigan.
Journal ofBusiness Ethia 11: 379-389, 1992.
© 1992 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Dennis A. Cioia
difference. My initial job title was “Problem Analyst”
— a catchall label that superficially described what I
would be thinking about and doing in the coming
years. On some deeper level, however, the ride
paradoxically came to connote the many crirical
things that I would not be thinking about and acring
By that summer of 1972 I was very full of myself.
I had met my hfe’s goals to that point with some
notable success. I had virtually everything I wanted,
including a strongly-held value system that had led
me to question many of the perspectives and pracrices I observed in the world around me. Not the
least of these was a profound distaste for the
Vietnam war, a distaste that had found me parriciparing in various demonstrarions against its conduct
and speaking as a part of a collecrive voice on the
moral and ethical failure of a democraric government that would attempt to jusdfy it. I also found
myself in MBA classes railing against the conducr of
businesses of the era, whose acrions struck me as
ranging from inconsiderate to indifferent to simply
unethical. To me the typical stance of business
seemed to be one of disdain for, rather than responsibility toward, the society of which they were
prominent members. I wanted something to change.
Accordingly, I culrivated my social awareness; I held
my principles high; I espoused my intenrion to help
a troubled world; and I wore my hair long. By any
measure I was a prototypical “Child of the ’60s.”
Therefore, it struck quire a few of my friends in
the MBA program as rather strange that I was in the
program at all. (“If you are so disappointed in
business, why study business?”). Subsequently, they
were practically dumbstruck when I accepted the job
offer from Ford, apparendy one of the great purveyors of the very acrions I reviled. I countered that
it was an ideal strategy, arguing that I would have a
Dennis A. Gioia
greater chance of influencing social change in business if I worked behind the scenes on the inside,
rather than as a strident voice on the outside. It was
clear to me that somebody needed to prod these
staid companies into socially responsible acrion. I
certainly aimed to do my part. Besides, I liked cars.
Into the fray: setting the personal stage
Predictably enough, I found myself on the fast track
at Ford, parriciparing in a “tournament” type of
socializarion (Van Maanen, 1978), engaged in a
competirion for recognirion with other MBA’s who
had recently joined the company. And I quickly
became caught up in the game. The company itself
was dynamic; the environment of business, especially
the auto industry, was intriguing; the job was
challenging and the pay was great. The psychic
rewards of working and succeeding in a major
corporarion proved unexpectedly seducrive. I really
became involved in the job.
Market forces (internarional comperirion) and
government regularion (vehicle safety and emissions)
were affecring the auto industry in disruprive ways
that only later would be common to the wider
business and social arena. They also produced an
industry and a company that felt buffeted, beleaguered, and threatened by the changes. The threats
were mostly external, of course, and led to a strong
feeling of we-vs-them, where we (Ford members)
needed to defend ourselves against them (all the
outside parries and voices demanding that we change
our ways). Even at this rime, an intriguing quesrion
for me was whether I was a “we” or a “them.” It was
becoming apparent to me that my perspecrive was
changing. I had long since cut my hair.
By the summer of 1973 I was pitched into the
thick of the battle. I became Ford’s Field Recall
Coordinator — not a posirion that was parricularly
high in the hierarchy, but one that wielded influence
for beyond its level. I was in charge of the operarional coordinarion of all of the recall campaigns
currently underway and also in charge of tracking
incoming informarion to idenrify developing problems. Therefore, I was in a posirion to make inirial
recommendarions about possible future recalls. The
most crirical type of recalls were labeled “safety
campaigns” — those that dealt vwth the possibility of
customer injury or death. These ranged from
straight-forward occurrences such as brake failure
and wheels falling off vehicles, to more exoric and
faintly humorous failure modes such as detaching
axles that announced their presence by spinning
forward and slamming into the starded driver’s door
and speed control units that locked on, and refused
to disengage, as the care accelerated wildly while the
spooked driver furilely tried to shut it off. Safety
recall campaigns, however, also encompassed the
more sobering possibility of on-board gasoline fires
The Pinto case: setting the corporate stage
In 1970 Ford introduced the Pinto, a small car that
was intended to compete with the then current
challenge from European cars and the ominous
presence on the horizon of Japanese manufacturers.
The Pinto was brought from inceprion to producrion in the record rime of approximately 25 months
(compared to the industry average of 43 months), a
rime frame that suggested the necessity for doing
things expediently. In addirion to the time pressure,
the engineering and development teams were required to adhere to the producrion “limits of 2 000”
for the diminurive car: it was not to exceed either
$2 000 in cost or 2000 pounds in weight. Any
decisions that threatened these targets or the riming
of the car’s introducrion were discouraged. Under
normal condirions design, styling, product plarming,
engineering, etc., were completed prior to producrion tooling. Because of the foreshortened rime
frame, however, some of these usually sequenrial
processes were executed in parallel.
As a consequence, tooling was already well under
way (thus “freezing” the basic design) when rourine
crash tesring revealed that the Pinto’s fuel tank often
ruptured when struck from the rear at a relarively
low speed (31 mph in crash tests). Reports (revealed
much later) showed that the fuel tank failures were
the result of some rather marginal design features.
The tank was posirioned between the rear bumper
and the rear axle ( a standard industry pracrice for
the rime). During impact, however, several studs
protruding from the rear of the axle housing would
puncture holes in the tank; the fuel filler neck also
was likely to rip away. Spilled gasoline then could be
Pinto Fires and Personal Ethics
ignited by sparks. Ford had in fact crash-tested 11
vehicles; 8 of these cars suffered potenrially catastrophic gas tank ruptures. The only 3 cars that
survived intact had each been modified in some way
to protect the tank.
These crash tests, however, were conducted under
the guidelines of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety
Standard 301 which had been proposed in 1968 and
strenuously opposed by the auto industry. FMVSS
301 was not actually adopted until 1976; thus, at the
rime of tlie tests. Ford was not in violarion of the
law. There were several possibiliries for fixing the
problem, including the oprion of redesigning the
tank and its locarion, which would have produced
tank integrity in a high-speed crash. That solurion,
however, was not only rime consuming and expensive, but also usurped trunk space, which was seen as
a crirical comperirive sales factor. One of the producrion modificarions to the tank, however, would
have cost only $11 to install, but given the right
margins and restricrions of the “limits of 2 000,”
there was reluctance to make even this relarively
minor change. There were other reasons for not
approving the change, as well, including a widespread industry belief that all small cars were
inherently unsafe solely because of their size and
weight. Another more prominent reason was a
corporate belief that “safety doesn’t sell.” This observarion was attributed to Lee Iacocca and stemmed
from Ford’s earlier attempt to make safety a sales
theme, an attempt that failed rather dismally in the
Perhaps the most controversial reason for rejecting the producrion change to the gas tank, however,
was Ford’s use of cost-benefit analysis to jusrify the
decision. The Narional Highway Traffic Safety Associarion (NHTSA, a federal agency) had approved the
use of cost-benefit analysis as an appropriate means
for establishing automorive safety design standards.
The controversial aspect in making such calcularions
v^ras that they required the assignment of some
specific value for a human life. In 1970, that value
was deemed to be approximately $200 000 as a “cost
to society” for each fatality. Ford used NHTSA’s
figures in esrimaring the costs and benefits of
altering the tank producrion design. An internal
memo, later revealed in court, indicates the following tabularions concerning potenrial fires (Dowie,
(Estimated as the costs of a production fix to all similarly
designed cars and trucks with the gas tank aft of the axle
(12 500 000 vehicles X $11/vehicle))
(Estimated as the savings from preventing (180 projected
deaths x $200 000/ death) + (180 projected burn injuries
X $67 000/injury) + (2 100 burned cars X $700/car))
T h e cost-benefit decision was then construed as
straightforward: No producrion fix would be undertaken. The philosophical and ethical implicarions of
assigning a financial value for human life or disfigurement do not seem to have been a major
considerarion in reaching this decision.
Pintos and personal experience
When I took over the Recall Coordinator’s job in
1973 I inherited the oversight of about 100 acrive
recall campaigns, more than half of which were
safety-related. These ranged from minimal in size
(replacing front wheels that were likely to break on
12 heavy trucks) to maximal (repairing the power
steering pump on millions of cars). In addition, there
were quite a number of safety problems that were
under considerarion as candidates for addirion to the
recall list. (Actually, “problem” was a word whose
public use was forbidden by the legal office at the
rime, even in service bullerins, because it suggested
corporate admission of culpability. “Condirion” was
the sancrioned catchword.) In addirion to these
potenrial recall candidates, there were many files
containing field reports of alleged component failure
(another forbidden word) that had led to accidents,
and in some cases, passenger injury. Beyond these
exisring files, I began to construct my own files of
incoming safety problems.
One of these new files concerned reports of Pintos
“lighring up” (in the words of a field representarive)
in rear-end accidents. There were actually very few
reports, perhaps because component failure was not
inirially assumed. These cars simply were consumed
by fire after apparently very low speed accidents.
Was there a problem? Not as far as I was concerned.
My cue for labelir^ a case as a problem either
required high frequencies of occurrence or directlytraceable causes. I had litde rime for specularive
Dennis A. Gioia
contemplarion on potenrial problems that did not fit
a pattern that suggested known courses of acrion
leading to possible recall. I do, however, remember
being disquieted by a field report accompanied by
graphic, detailed photos of the remains of a burnedout Pinto in which several people had died. Although that report became part of my file, I did not
flag it as any special case.
It is difficult to convey the overwhelming complexity and pace of the job of keeping track of so
many acrive or potenrial recall campaigns. It remains
the busiest, most informarion-filled job I have ever
held or would want to hold. Each case required a
myriad of informarion-gathering and execurion
stages. I disrinctly remember that the informarionprocessing demands led me to confuse the facts of
one problem case with another on several occasions
because the tell-tale signs of recall candidate cases
were so similar. I thought of myself as a fireman — a
fireman who perfectly fit the descriprion by one of
my colleagues: “In this office everything is a crisis.
You only have rime to put out the big fires and spit
on the little ones.” By those standards the Pinto
problem was disrinctly a little one.
It is also important to convey the muring of
emorion involved in the Recall Coordinator’s job. I
remember contemplaring the fact that my job
literally involved life-and-death matters. I was somerimes responsible for finding and fixing cars NOW,
because somebody’s life might depend on it. I took it
very seriously. Early in thejob, I somerimes woke up
at night wondering whether I had covered all the
bases. Had I left some unknown person at risk
because I had not thought of something? That soon
faded, however, and of necessity the considerarion of
people’s lives became a fairly removed, dispassionate
process. To do the job “well” there was little room
for emorion. Allowing it to surface was potenrially
paralyzing and prevented rarional decisions about
which cases to recommend for recall. On moral
grounds I knew I could recommend most of the
vehicles on my safety tracking list for recall (and risk
earning the label of a “bleeding heart”). On pracrical
grounds, I recognized that people implicitly accept
risks in cars. We could not recall all cars with
potential problems and stay in business. I learned to
be responsive to those cases that suggested an imminent, dangerous problem.
I should also note, that the country was in the
midst of its first, and worst, oil crisis at this rime.
The effects of the crisis had cast a pall over Ford and
the rest of the automobile industry. Ford’s product
line, with the perhaps notable exceprion of the Pinto
and Maverick small cars, was not well-suited to
dealing with the crisis. Layoffs were imminent for
many people. Recalling the Pinto in this context
would have damaged one of the few trump cards the
company had (although, quite frankly, I do not
remember overtly thinking about that issue).
Pinto reports conrinued to trickle in, but at such a
slow rate that they really did not capture parricular
attenrion relarive to other, more pressing safety
problems. However, I later saw a crumpled, burned
car at a Ford depot where alleged problem components and vehicles were delivered for inspecrion
and analysis (a place known as the “Chamber of
Horrors” by some of the people who worked there).
The revulsion on seeing this incinerated hulk was
immediate and profound. Soon afterwards, and
despite the fact that the file was very sparse, I recommended the Pinto case for preliminary departmentlevel review concerning possible recall. After the
usual round of discussion about criteria and jusrificarion for recall, everyone voted against recommending recall — including me. It did not fit the
pattern of recallable standards; the evidence was not
overwhelming that the car was defecrive in some
way, so the case was actually fairly straightforward. It
was a good business decision, even if people might
be dying. (We did not then know about the preproducrion crash test data that suggested a high rate
of tank failures in “normal” accidents (cf, Perrow,
1984) or an abnormal failure mode.)
Later, the existence of the crash test data did
become known within Ford, which suggested that
the Pinto might actually have a recallable problem.
This information led to a reconsiderarion of the case
within our office. The data, however, prompted a
comparison of the Pinto’s survivability in a rear end
accident with that of other comperitors’ small cars.
These comparisons revealed that although many cars
in this subcompact class suffered appalling deformarion in relarively low speed collisions, the Pinto was
merely the worst of a bad lot. Furthermore, the gap
between the Pinto and the comperirion was not
dramaric in terms of the speed at which fuel tank
rupture was likely to occur. On that basis it would
be difficult to jusrify the recall of cars that were
Pinto Fires and Personal Ethia
comparable with others on the market. In the face of
even more compelling evidence that people were
probably going to die in this car, I again included
myself in a group of decision makers who voted not
to recommend recall to the higher levels of the
Coda to the corporate case
Subsequent to my departure from Ford in 1975,
reports of Pinto fires escalated, attracring increasing
media attenrion, almost all of it crirical of Ford.
Anderson and Whitten (1976) revealed the internal
memos concerning the gas tank problem and quesrioned how the few dollars saved per car could be
jusrified when human lives were at stake. Shordy
thereafter, a scathing arricle by Dowie (1977) attacked not only the Pinto’s design, but also accused
Ford of gross negligence, stonewalling, and unethical
corporate conduct by alleging that Ford knowingly
sold “firetraps” after willfully calcularing the cost of
lives against profits (see also Gatewood and Carroll,
1983). Dowie’s provocarive quote specularing on
“how long the Ford Motor Company would conrinue to market lethal cars were Henry Ford II and
Lee Iacocca serving 20 year terms in Leavenworth
for consumer homicide” (1977, p. 32) was parricularly effecrive in focusing attenrion on the case.
Public senriment edged toward labehng Ford as
socially deviant because management was seen as
knowing that the car was defecrive, choosing profit
over lives, resisring demands to fix the car, and
apparently showing no public remorse (Swigert and
Shordy after Dowie’s (1977) expose, NHTSA
iniriated its own invesrigarion. Then, early in 1978 a
jury awarded a Pinto burn vicrim $125 million in
punirive damages (later reduced to $6.6 million , a
judgment upheld on an appeal that prompted the
judge to assert that “Ford’s insriturional mentality
was shown to be one of callous indifference to public
safety” (quoted in Cullen etal, 1987, p. 164)). A siege
atmosphere emerged at Ford. Insiders characterized
the mounring media campaign as “hysterical” and “a
crusade against us” (personal communicarions). The
crisis deepened. In the summer of 1978 NHTSA
issued a formal determinarion that the Pinto was
defecrive. Ford then launched a reluctant recall of all
1971—1976 cars (those built for the 1977 model year
were equipped with a producrion fix prompted by
the adoprion of the FMVSS 301 gas tank standard).
Ford hoped that the issue would then recede, but
worse was yet to come.
The culminarion of the case and the demise of the
Pinto itself began in Indiana on August 10, 1978,
when three teenage girls died in a fire triggered after
their 1973 Pinto was hit from behind by a van. A
grand jury took the unheard of step of indicring
Ford on charges of reckless homicide (Cullen et al,
1987). Because of the precedent-setring possibiliries
for all manufacturing industries. Ford assembled a
formidable legal team headed by Watergate prosecutor James Neal to defend itself at the trial. The
trial was a media event; it was the first rime that a
corporarion was tried for alleged criminal behavior.
After a protracted, acrimonious courtroom battle
that included vivid clashes among the opposing
attorneys, surprise witnesses, etc., the jury ulrimately
found in favor of Ford. Ford had dodged a bullet in
the form of a consequenrial legal precedent, but
because of the negarive publicity of the case and the
charges of corporate crime and ethical deviance, the
conduct of manufacturing businesses was altered,
probably forever. As a relarively minor footnote to
the case. Ford ceased producrion of the Pinto.
Coda to the personal case
In the intervening years since my early involvement
with the Pinto fire case, I have given repeated
considerarion to my role in it. Although most of the
ethically quesrionable acrions that have been cited in
the press are associated with Ford’s intenrional
stonewalling after it was clear that the Pinto was
defecrive (see Cullen et al, 1986; Dowie, 1977;
Gatewood and Carroll, 1983) — and thus postdate
my involvement with the case and the company — I
still nonetheless wonder about my own culpability.
Why didn’t I see the gravity of the problem and its
ethical overtones? What happened to the value
system I carried with me into Ford? Should I have
acted differendy, given what I knew then? The
experience with myself has somerimes not been
pleasant. Somehow, it seems I should have done
something different that might have made a difference.
Dennis A. Gioia
As a consequence of this line of thinking and
feeling, some years ago I decided to construct a
“living case” out of my experience vwth the Pinto fire
problem for use in my MBA classes. The written case
descriprion contains many of the facts detailed
above; the analyrical task of the class is to ask
appropriate quesrions of me as a figure in the case to
reveal the central issues involved. It is somewhat of a
trying experience to get through these classes. After
getring to know me for most of the semester, and
then finding out that I did not vote to recommend
recall, students are often incredulous, even angry at
me for apparently not having lived what I have been
teaching. To be fair and even-handed here, many
students understand my acrions in the context of the
rimes and the atritudes prevalent then. Others,
however, are very disappointed that I appear to have
failed during a rime of trial. Consequendy, I am
accused of being a charlatan and otherwise vilified
by those who maintain that ethical and moral principles should have prevailed in this case no matter
what the mirigating circumstances. Those are the
ones that hurt.
Those are also the ones, however, that keep the
case and its lessons alive in my mind and cause me to
have an on-going dialogue with myself about it. It is
fascinaring to me that for several years after I first
conducted the living case with myself as the focus, I
remained convinced that I had made the “right”
decision in not recommending recall of the cars. In
Hght of the rimes and the evidence available, I
thought I had pursued a reasonable course of acrion.
More recently, however, I have come to think that I
really should have done everything I could to get
those cars off the road.
In retrospect I know that in the context of the
rimes my acrions were legal (they were all well
within the framework of the law); they probably also
were ethical according to most prevailing definirions
(they were in accord with accepted professional
standards and codes of conduct); the major concern
for me is whether they were moral (in the sense of
adhering to some higher standards of inner conscience and convicrion about the “right” acrions to
take). This simple typology implies that I had passed
at least two hurdles on a personal conrinuum that
ranged from more rigorous, but arguably less significant criteria, to less rigorous, but more personally.
organizarionally, and perhaps societally significant
It is that last criterion that remains troublesome.
Perhaps these reflecrions are all just personal
revisionist history. After all, I am srill stuck in my
cognirive structures, as everyone is. I do not think
these concerns are all retrospecrive reconstrucrion,
however. Another telling piece of informarion is this:
The enrire rime I was dealing with the Pinto fire
problem, I owned a Pinto (!). I even sold it to my
sister. What does that say?
What happened here?
I, of course, have some thoughts about my experience with this damningly visible case. At the risk of
breaking some of the accepted rules of scholarly
analysis, rather than engaging in the usual comprehensive, dense, arms-length cririque, I would instead
like to offer a rather selecrive and subjecrive focus on
certain characterisrics of human informarion processing relevant to this kind of situarion, of which I
was my own unwitring vicrim. I make no claim that
my analysis necessarily “explains more variance”
than other possible explanarions. I do think that this
selecrive view is enlightening in that it offers an
alternarive explanarion for some ethically quesrionable acrions in business.
The subjecrive stance adopted in the analysis is
intenrional also. This case obviously stems from a
series of personal experiences, accounts, and introspecrions. The analyrical style is intended to be
consistent with the self-based case example; therefore, it appears to be less “formal” than the typical
objecrivist mode of explanarion. I suspect that my
chosen focus will be fairly non-obvious to the reader
familiar with the ethical literature (as it typically
is to the ethical actor). Although this analysis might
be judged as somewhat self-serving, I nonetheless
believe that it provides an informarive explanarion
for some of the ethical foibles we see enacted around
Pinto Fires and Personal Ethics
To me, there are two major issues to address.
First, how could my value system apparently have
flip-flopped in the relarively short space of 1—2
years? Secondly, how could I have failed to take
acrion on a retrospecrively obvious safety problem
when I was in the perfect posirion to do so? To
begin, I would like to consider several possible
explanarions for my thoughts and acrions (or lack
thereof) during the early stages of the Pinto fire case.
One explanarion is that I was simply revealed as a
phony when the chips were down; that my previous
values were not strongly inculcated; that I was all
bluster, not parricularly ethical, and as a result acted
expediendy when confronted with a reality test of
those values. In other words, I turned traitor to my
own expressed values. Another explanarion is that I
was simply inrimidated; in the face of strong pressure to heel to company preferences, I folded — put
ethical concerns aside, or at least traded them for a
monumental guilt trip and did what anybody would
do to keep a good job. A third explanarion is that I
was following a strictly utilitarian set of decision
criteria (Valasquez et al, 1983) and, predictably
enough, opted for a personal form of Ford’s own
cost-benefit analysis, with similar disappoinring results. Another explanarion might suggest that the
interacrion of my stage of moral development
(Kohlberg, 1969) and the culture and decision
environment at Ford led me to think about and act
upon an etldcal dilemma in a fashion that reflected a
lower level of actual moral development than I
espoused for myself (Trevino, 1986 and this issue).
Yet another explanarion is that I was co-opted;
rather than working from the inside to change a
lumbering system as I had intended, the tables were
turned and the system beat me at my own game.
More charitably, perhaps, it is possible that I simply
was a good person making bad ethical choices
because of the corporate milieu (Gellerman, 1986).
I doubt that this list is exhausrive. I am quite sure
that cynics could match my own MBA students’
labels, which in the worst case include phrases like
“moral failure” and “doubly reprehensible because
you were in a posirion to make a difference.” I
believe, however, on the basis of a number of years
of work on social cognirion in organizarions that a
viable explanarion is one that is not quite so melodramaric. It is an explanarion that rests on a recogni-
rion that even the best-intenrioned organizarion
members organize informarion into cognirive structures or schemas that serve as (fallible) mental
templates for handling incoming informarion and as
guides for acring upon it. Of the many schemas that
have been hypothesized to exist, the one that is most
relevant to my experience at Ford is the norion of a
script (Abelson, 1976, 1981).
My central thesis is this: My oum schematized
(scripted) knowledge influenced me to perceive recall issues
in terms of the prevailing decision environment and to
unconsciously overlook keyfeatures of the Pinto case, mainly
because they did not Jit an existing script. Although the
outcomes of the case carry retrospectively obvious ethical
overtones, the schemas driving my perceptions and actions
precluded consideration of the issues in ethical terms because
the scripts did not include ethical dimensions.
A schema is a cognirive framework that people use to
impose structure upon informarion, situarions, and
expectarions to facilitate understanding (Gioia and
Poole, 1984; Taylor and Crocker, 1981). Schemas
derive from considerarion of prior experience or
vicarious learning that results in the formarion of
“organized” knowledge — knowledge that, once
formed, precludes the necessity for further acrive
cognirion. As a consequence, such structured knowledge allows virtually effortless interpretarion of
informarion and events (cf.. Canter and Mischel,
1979). A script is a specialized type of schema that
retains knowledge of acrions appropriate for specific
situarions and contexts (Abelson, 1976, 1981). One of
the most important characterisrics of scripts is that
they simultaneously provide a cognirive framework
for understanding informarion and events as well as a
guide to appropriate behavior to deal with the situarion faced. They thus serve as linkages between
cognirion and acrion (Gioia and Manz, 1985).
The structuring of knowledge in scripted form is
a fundamental human informarion processing tendency that in many ways results in a relarively closed
cognirive system that influences both perceprion and
acrion. Scripts, like all schemas, operate on the basis
of prototypes, which are abstract representarions that
contain the main features or characterisrics of a
Dennis A. Gioia
given knowledge category (e.g., “safety problems”).
Protoscripts (Gioia and Poole, 1984) serve as templates against which incoming informarion can be
assessed. A pattern in current informarion that
generally matches the template associated with a
given script signals that acrive thought and analysis is
not required. Under these condirions the entire
exisring script can be called forth and enacted
automarically and unconsciously, usually without
adjustment for subtle differences in information
patterns that might be important.
Given the complexity of the organizarional world,
it is obvious that the schemarizing or scripring of
knowledge implies a great informarion processing
advantage — a decision maker need not acrively
think about each new presentarion of informarion,
situarions, or problems; the mode of handling such
problems has already been worked out in advance
and remanded to a working stock of knowledge held
in individual (or organizarional) memory. Scripted
knowledge saves a significant amount of mental
work, a savings that in fact prevents the cognirive
paralysis that would inevitably come from trying to
treat each specific instance of a class of problems as
a unique case that requires contemplarion. Scripted
decision making is thus efficient decision making
but not necessarily good decision making (Gioia and
Of course, every advantage comes with its own set
of built-in disadvantages. There is a price to pay for
scripted knowledge. On the one hand, exisring
scripts lead people to selecrively perceive informarion that is consistent with a script and thus to
ignore anomalous informarion. Conversely, if there
is missing informarion, the gaps in knowledge are
filled with expected features suppHed by the script
(Bower et al, 1979; Graesser et al, 1980). In some
cases, a pattern that matches an exisring script,
except for some key differences, can be “tagged” as a
disrincrive case (Graesser et al, 1979) and thus be
made more memorable. In the worst case scenario,
however, a situarion that does not fit the characterisrics of the scripted perspecrive for handling problem
cases often is simply not noriced. Scripts thus offer a
viable explanarion for why experienced decision
makers (perhaps especially experienced decision makers) tend to overlook what others would construe as
obvious factors in making a decision.
Given the relarively rare occurrence of truly novel
informarion, the nature of script processing imphes
that it is a default mode of organizarional cognirion.
That is, instead of spending the predominance of
their mental energy thinking in some acrive fashion,
decision makers might better be characterized as
typically not thinking, i.e., dealing with informarion
in a mode that is akin to “cruising on automaric
pilot” (cf, Gioia, 1986). The scripted view casts
decision makers as needing some sort of prod in the
form of novel or unexpected informarion to kick
them into a thinking mode — a prod that often does
not come because of the wealth of similar data that
they must process. Therefore, instead of focusing
what people pay attenrion to, it might be more
enlightening to focus on what they do not pay
Pinto problem perception and scripts
It is illustrative to consider my situarion in handling
the early stages of the Pinto fire case in light of script
theory. When I was dealing with the first tricklingin of field reports that might have suggested a
significant problem with the Pinto, the reports were
essenrially similar to many others that I was dealing
with (and dismissing) all the rime. The sort of informarion they contained, which did not convey enough prototypical features to capture my attenrion,
never got past my screening script. I had seen this
type of informarion pattern before (hundreds of
rimes!); I was making this kind of decision automarically every day. I had trained myself to respond to
prototypical cues, and these didn’t fit the relevant
prototype for crisis cases. (Yes, the Pinto reports fit a
prototype — but it was a prototype for “normal
accidents” that did not deviate significandy from
expected problems). The frequency of the reports
relarive to other, more serious problems (i.e., those
that displayed more characterisric features of safety
problems) also did not pass my scripted criteria for
singling out the Pinto case. Consequently, I looked
right past them.
Overlooking uncharacterisric cues also was exacerbated by the nature of the job. The overwhelming
informarion overload that characterized the role as
well as its hecric pace actually forced a greater
reliance on scripted responses. It was impossible to
handle thejob requirements without relying on some
Pinto Fires and Personal Ethics
sort of automaric way of assessing whether a case
deserved acrive attenrion. There was so much to do
and so much informarion to attend to that the only
way to deal with it was by means of schemaric
processing. In fact, the one anomaly in the case that
might have cued me to gravity of the problem (the
field report accompanied by graphic photographs)
still did not disringuish the problem as one that was
disrincrive enough to snap me out of my standard
response mode and tag it as a failure that deserved
Even the presence of an emorional component
that might have short-circuited standard script processing instead became part of the script itself.
Months of squelching the disturbing emorions associated with serious safety problems soon made
muffled emorions a standard (and not very salient)
component of the script for handling any safety
problem. This observarion, that emorion was muted
by experience, and therefore de-emphasized in the
script, differs from Fiske’s (1982) widely accepted
posirion that emorion is ried to the top of a schema
(i.e., is the most salient and inirially-tapped aspect of
schemaric processing). On the basis of my experience, I would argue that for organizarion members
trained to control emorions to perform the job role
(cf., Pitre, 1990), emorion is either not a part of the
internalized script, or at best becomes a difficult-toaccess part of any script for job performance.
The one instance of emorion penetraring the
operaring script was the revulsion that swept over
me at the sight of the burned vehicle at the return
depot. That event was so strong that it prompted me
to put the case up for preliminary considerarion (in
theorerical terms, it prompted me cognirively to
“tag” the Pinto case as a potenrially disrincrive one). I
soon “came to my senses,” however, when rarional
considerarion of the problem characterisrics suggested that they did not meet the scripted criteria
that were consensually shared among members of
the Field Recall Office. At the preliminary review
other members of the decision team, enacring their
own scripts in the absence of my emorional experience, wondered why I had even brought the case up.
To me this meering demonstrated that even when
controlled analyric informarion processing occurred,
it was nonetheless based on prior schematizarion of
informarion. In other words, even when informarion
processing was not automarically executed, it srill
depended upon schemas (cf., Gioia, 1986). As a result
of the social construcrion of the situarion, I ended up
agreeing vwth my colleagues and voring not to recall.
The remaining major issue to be dealt vnth, of
course, concerns the apparent shift in my values. In a
period of less than two years I appeared to change
my stripes and adopt the cultural values of the
organizarion. How did that apparent shift occur?
Again, scripts are relevant. I would argue that my
pre-Ford values for changing corporate America
were bona fide. I had internalized values for doing
what was right as I then understood “rightness” in
grand terms. They key is, however, that I had not
internalized a script for enacring those values in any
specific context outside my limited experience. The
insider’s view at Ford, of course, provided me with a
specific and immediate context for developing such
a script. Scripts are formed from salient experience
and there was no more salient experience in my
relarively young life than joining a major corporarion and moving quickly into a posirion of clear and
present responsibility. The strongest possible parameters for script formarion were all there, not only
because of the job role specificarions, but also from
the corporate culture. Organizarional culture, in one
very powerful sense, amounts to a coUecrion of
scripts writ large. Did I sell out? No. Were my
cognirive structures altered by salient experience?
Without quesrion. Scripts for understanding and
acrion were formed and reformed in a relarively
short rime in a way that not only altered perceprions
of issues but also the likely acrions associated with
those altered perceprions.
I might characterize the differing cognirive structures as “outsider” versus “insider” scripts. I view
them also as “idealist” versus “realist” scripts. I might
further note that the outsider/idealist script was one
that was more individually-based than the insider/
realist script, which was more collecrive and subject
to the influence of the corporate milieu and culture.
Personal idenrity as captured in the revised script
became much more corporate than individual. Given
that scripts are socially constructed and reconstructed cognirive structures, it is understandable
that their content and process would be much more
responsive to the corporate culture, because of its
saliency and immediacy.
The recall coordinator’s job was serious business.
The scripts associated with it influenced me much
Dennis A. Gioia
more than I influenced it. Before I went to Ford I
would have argued strongly that Ford had an ethical
obligarion to recall. After I left Ford I now argue and
teach that Ford had an ethical obligarion to recall.
But, while I was there, I perceived no strong obligarion
to recall and I remember no strong ethical overtones
to the case whatsoever. It was a very straightforward
decision, driven by dominant scripts for the rime,
place, and context.
Whither ethics and scripts?
Most models of ethical decision making in organizations implicitly assume that people recognize and
think about a moral or ethical dilemma when they
are confronted with one (cf., Kohlberg, 1969 and
Trevino’s review in this issue). I call this seemingly
fundamental assumprion into quesrion. The unexplored ethical issue for me is the arguably prevalent
case where organizarional representarives are not .
aware that they are dealing with a problem that
might have ethical overtones. If the case involves a
familiar class of problems or issues, it is likely to be
handled via exisring cognirive structures or scripts —
scripts that typically include no ethical component in their
Although we might hope that people in charge of
important decisions like vehicle safety recalls might
engage in acrive, logical analysis and consider the
subtleries in the many different situarions they face,
the context of the decisions and their necessary
reliance on schemaric processing tends to preclude
such considerarion (cf, Gioia, 1989). Accounring for
the subtleries of ethical considerarion in work situarions that are typically handled by schema-based
processing is very difficult indeed. Scripts are built
out of situarions that are normal, not those that are
abnormal, ill-structured, or unusual (which often
can characterize ethical domains). The ambiguiries
associated with most ethical dilemmas imply that
such situarions demand a “custom” decision, which
means that the inclusion of an ethical dimension as a
component of an evolving script is not easy to
How might ethical considerarions be internalized
as part of the script for understanding and acrion? It
is easier to say what will not be likely to work than
what will. Clearly, mere menrion of ethics in policy
or training manuals will not do the job. Even exhortarions to be concerned with ethics in decision
making are seldom likely to migrate into the script.
Just as clearly, codes of ethics typically will not work.
They are too often cast at a level of generality that
can not be associated with any specific script. Furthermore, for all pracrical purposes, codes of ethics
often are stated in a way that makes them “contextfree,” which makes them virtually impossible to
associate with acrive scripts, which always are context-bound.
Tacrics for script development that have more
potenrial involve learning or training that concentrates on exposure to informarion or models that
explicitly display a focus on ethical considerarions.
This implies that ethics be included in job descriprions, management development training, mentoring, etc. Tacrics for script revision involve learning or
training that concentrate on “script-breaking” examples. Organizarion members must be exposed either
to vicarious or personal experiences that interrupt
tacit knowledge of “appropriate” acrion so that script
revision can be iniriated. Training scenarios, and
especially role playing, that portray expected sequences that are then interrupted to call explicit
attenrion to ethical issues can be tagged by the
perceiver as requiring attenrion. This tacric amounts
to installing a decision node in the revised scripts
that tells the actor “Now think” (Abelson, 1981).
Only by means of similar script-breaking strategies
can exisring cognitive structures be modified to
accommodate the necessary cycles of automaric and
controlled processing (cf., Louis and Sutton, 1991).
The upshot of the scripted view of organizarional
understanding and behavior is both an encouragement and an indictment of people facing situarions
laced with ethical overtones. It is encouraging
because it suggests that organizarional decision
makers are not necessarily lacking in ethical standards; they are simply fallible informarion processors
who fail to norice the ethical implicarions of a usual
way of handling issues. It is an indictment because
ethical dimensions are not usually a central feature
of the cognirive structures that drive decision making. Obviously, they should be, but it will take
substanrial concentrarion on the ethical dimension
of the corporate culture, as well as overt attempts to
emphasize ethics in educarion, training, and decision
making before typical organizarional scripts are
Pinto Fires and Personal Ethics
likely to be modified to include the crucial ethical
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Pennsylvania State University,
Smeal College ofBusiness Administration,
University Park, PA 16802,
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Weightage: 5 Marks
LO 1.1 Demonstrate a solid understanding of prominent theories of ethics and morality.
L.O 1.6 Describe a comprehensive framework for analyzing and resolving ethical issues and dilemmas in
“Pinto Fires and Personal Ethics: A Script Analysis of Missed Opportunities by Dennis A.Cioia”
published in Journal of Business Ethics. 11: 379-389, 199. 1992 Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Printed in the Netherlands.
Read the article and answer the questions
Put yourself in the role of the recall coordinator for Ford Motor Co. It’s 1973, and ﬁeld
reports have been coming in about rear-end collisions, ﬁres, and fatalities. You must decide
whether to recall the automobile. What will you decide?
1. Identify the relevant facts, pertinent ethical issues, and points of ethical conﬂict. (1.25
2. Identify the relevant affected parties, the possible consequences of alternative courses of
action. (1.25 Marks)
3. Identify relevant obligations, the relevant community standards that should guide you as a
person of integrity, and Check your gut. (2.5 Marks)
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