I write about a lot of different things. Some things that I know about already. Some that I don’t. In both instances, writing forces you to get under the skin of the facts and find the nuggets of interest which might most grab your reader.
Although I’d read about the shocking experiments of Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram before, I hadn’t picked up on one ‘interesting’ point until I was writing about them for my new e-learning course on Professionalism and Ethics for Accountants. Milgram put volunteers in a situation where they were requested to administer electric shocks to a stranger, based on his performance when answering a number of questions. Although he never actually received the shocks, the experiment participants thought they had been given – and even heard the screams that they had supposedly caused. What’s worse, the ‘victim’ in this scenario had been specially selected due to his likeable nature. So who would you choose if you wanted an approachable, smiley, friendly and harmless person to sit in the victim’s spot?
I bet most people wouldn’t have plumped for an accountant, but that’s who Milgram picked: James McDonough, the Head Payroll auditor of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad.
To find out what the world learnt from McDonough and Milgram’s efforts, read my recent blogpost about obedience and authority for Nelson Croom. Alternatively, you can watch the 2009 recreation of the original experiment by the BBC below. Bizarrely, the approachable, smiley, friendly and harmless person playing the victim’s role in the updated version is one of my old university friends – another fact I didn’t know until I was researching for my writing…