How To Tell If You're Guilty
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – I was reading the other day that David B. Duncan, former Andersen auditor in charge of shredding, went through an interesting transformation on his way to pleading guilty to obstruction of justice. It seems that Mr. Duncan, who was originally convinced of his own innocence, came to understand his guilt--just in time, thankfully, for him to avoid a lot of trouble by accepting the offer to cop a plea and testify against Andersen. This insight was hard won, apparently, and involved "a lot of soul searching," he said.

That is sad, mostly because none of this personal angst was actually necessary. People in business are different from other human beings. We wear suits. We have to be places. There is little ambiguity, ethicswise, unlike in the world of, say, politics or show business. In short, the path of enterprise is narrow and well marked. So there are certain easy ways that people like us can ascertain when, exactly, we've been guilty of something. Here they are, offered to those who need them.

1. If your heart races and you feel excited and very alive while you're pursuing your daily're probably breaking some law or other. We're not supposed to feel that way at the office.

2. If your routine is interrupted by a large, organized effort to expunge any trail of your's not a good sign. Most of the time a simple garbage can--or capacious credenza--will suffice. If you need a dumpster, something's funky, and you should probably be starting to feel those first telltale twinges of remorse. These will be useful later when you need to feel guilty enough to accept the government's deal.

3. If you feel righteous and justified because what you're doing is in compliance with Section 42, Paragraph (b) of the company policy on the issue...there's always a company policy that makes people comfortable when they're headed into the thicket. Company policy may not always be against the law, certainly not! But federal, state, and local regulations often transcend it.

4. If your employees look at you funny when you ask them to do something, and you are required to say to them, as Mr. Duncan is reported to have done, "I'm not telling you to go shred a bunch of documents or anything, but you need to make sure you're in compliance with the firm's retention policy"...well, you know. You weren't born under a stolen cabbage leaf, were you? You're fudging!

5. In fact, if you find it necessary to use words like "retention policy" may be on the slippery slope. These are euphemisms that enable people to tell themselves anything they like. Just look at the fudnutz that the Enron and Andersen people used to explunge away what they were doing. Use real words. When you can no longer do so--boing! You stink.

6. If your palms sweat when you wake up at three in the morning, and you wonder what the heck it's all probably should. Even if you feel very self-righteous and pure and fabulous about everything because your chairman told you that you were doing the right thing, that hour between 3 and 4 A.M. is like a litmus test. If you're not asleep, you're going to some kind of slammer in the near future, buddy. Straighten up.

7. If you suddenly find that you have a lot of Swiss bank accounts, the way the now-contrite geek swindler Martin Frankel did...and have, like, eight limos that are extended because you're very tall, and girls who cost $1,000 to say hello to, and a leather saddle installed in your living room for some reason...hey, it doesn't matter how happy all this stuff makes you feel. You should be punished.

8. If all your competitors sue you for making it impossible for them to do business, for instance...there's something wrong with that, don't you think so? Well, why don't you think so?

9. If you're being interviewed by a very attractive woman (or man, for that matter) who is not your wife (or husband), and you suddenly find yourself running off to Brazil with her (him) because you haven't felt this way in 20 years and you've actually never been happier and life is good and you don't care what people think...good luck to you, pal. You're gonna fall.

10. And finally, if you're paying an attorney a lot of money to come up with some nonsense to get you off the hook and he tells you that if you're going to see the sun again for the next decade you'd better cop a plea...start working on developing that old guilt muscle. Sure, it's been a long time since you used it. But try. Those who don't have one end up at a significant disadvantage in most social and business situations. Unless they're running the corporation. Then it's sort of an asset.

Oh. And start thinking about that book deal. There are a lot of ways to make a nest egg. And you're going to have a lot of time on your hands.

By day, Stanley Bing is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name. He can be reached at