In 1971, American giant car maker Ford Motor Company introduced a small, light and cheap car, named Pinto. Its design was aimed at reducing the time of manufacturing and to reduce material cost and gas consumption. In an effort to increase the trunk space, the design was faulted, when the designers placed the fuel tank behind the rear axle. Engineers believe it would have been safe, if it was placed above the axel. This error made the Pinto prone to rear collisions, which on many occasions were fatal even at relatively low speed. The fuel tank and the rear axle were only nine inches apart and some bolts, which had the potential of piercing near the gas tank, were also some technical mistakes the manufactures ignored. The gas filler pipe was poorly designed in that it would have a high chance of being disconnected from the fuel tank in case a collision occurred and this led to spillage of fuel resulting into fire (Birsch, 1994).
In 1972, a Ford Pinto driven by a woman caught fire and led to her death and her passenger (Mr.Grimshow), sustained a ninety percent burn on his body in California. In 1978, Ford Pinto was hit from behind leading to death of three teenage girls. The accident caused a national uproar and a bad image to the company. Grimshow sued the company and argued that the manufacturer knew of the danger exposed by the Pinto’s fuel tank. He won the case and was awarded $128.The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was concerned about by about 180 deaths caused by the malfunction of the Pinto in 1974, but ruled out recalling. Multiple sues were made to the Ford Company and the management was left with no option but to recall the Pinto at least to save the company reputation and cease the loss it had incurred to compensation of the accident victims. At one time in 1979, Indiana State sued the company for homicide, but the auto maker eventually won the case but the reputation had badly been tarnished.
At the time of recalling, Denis Gioia, an engineer by profession, scholar and specialist in social cognition was the recall coordinator at the Ford Company. Even after many reports of the danger, the model caused to the buyers, Gioia did not hasten the decision to recall the vehicles simply because the scripts did not provide ethical dimensions. Scripts are guidelines of dealing with situations. He defended himself citing that he only considered his schemas with consideration of application of ethics. Even though schemas are shortcuts that assist in the interpretation of huge amount of data, it coverts people to stereotypes who work hard to keep the old practices and ideas ignoring any new piece of information. Gioia refused to follow the scripts and instead applied his own schemas which according to him dictated that he follows professional ethics. Denis Gioia could not act on his decision, because the company’s laid down rules did not provide him the power to do recall the cars. Eventually the media gave a lot of pressure and combined with court cases and fear of the future market collapse, Ford Company recalled around 1.5 million Pintos that had been manufactured between 1970 and 1976.
Gioia knew that delaying the recalling of the Pinto meant more deaths, and yet he was at an influential position to champion the recalling procedures. Formerly he had been an activist in advocating corporate social responsibility. He argued later that his failure to decide on an ethical decision based on his position was a result of complexity of the scripts governing the Ford Company in that it had no provision for applying business ethics to be followed. He was surprised by his own behavior of failing to offer a timely decision considering that he was a strong crusader for ethics in organization.
He argues that the best approach, he could have taken, was to form the reports he had received into cognitive script. These are knowledge structures that dictate the methodology to be followed in given situations. By cognitive, he meant that the decision required him to think and resolve, but instead, he followed the company’s manual. Schemas are knowledge structures, which govern the day to day events in an organized manner of thoughts. They concentrate on specific issues that aid in organizing social information. Scripts are methods of analyzing information data to draw conclusions involving daily social events or interactions. The conclusions may change, if additional information is produced. Schemata and scripts is a method that is employed data collection so as to develop their own conclusions as well as theories on everyday social interactions as well as situations. It is important to understand that conclusions and developed theories can change. Gioia stated that the schemas driving his perceptions as well as his actions that had precluded his consideration of the issues in regards to the ethical terms since the scripts are not inclusive of the ethical dimensions. He failed to deliver a decision, because scripts of the Company influenced his thoughts in that, as much as he cared about the deaths. He could not act, because the schemas guiding the company could not allow him to make an independent decision. He suggests that as much as scripts are context bound, one should be able to know his role in an organization and preference to important information that need special attention. He continues that at the beginning of the Pinto problems, it looked so simple, but from a cognitive perspective, the fault did not qualify for an existing script. He argued that the accidents were not frequent and when fault was put into experiment its performance was not so different from other models from other competitors (Pontell & Geis 2007).
Philip Zimbardo in his Stanford Prison Experiment clearly illustrates how situations can inhibit an individual way of thinking and turn him to behave strangely. The main idea was to investigate whether ordinary people can be transformed to do irrational and inhuman acts, when they were put in certain positions and conditions. Healthy and well disciplined students were taken as prisoners and another group cat as mock guards. Initially the study was to take two weeks, but it had to be cancelled only after six days, when the behavior of both the prisoners and the guards went a bit too far. The study demonstrates that good people can be influenced to act in irrationally and to a good extent in an evil way depending on various situations. The guards completely turned to be cruel to the prisoners and the prisoners could only do anything to get out despite the fact they knew it was just an experiment. This shows that people can be changed within certain social settings. They forgot the scripts that they had issued prior to the experiment and instead acted on their own schemas as a way of convincing the authorities to free them. In the case of Gioia, his position and the problems, that faced the company, made him act out of his own conviction and had to ignore his inner decisions to recall the Pinto and instead complied with the administration to continue manufacturing the infamous dangerous vehicle. He recommended that one should focus building an ethical base, culture and morals to deliver timely decisions (Braswell et al, 2011). Like the characters in the Stanford experiment, Gioia who was a former ethics activist transforms and overlooks the numerous deaths caused by the Pinto and still could not act rationally.