Questions that Transform

Posted in: Club Newsletter, Featured, In The News, Reflections Articles



Questions that Transform

by Jim Priest

All Rotarians have heard of “The Four Way Test”.  Many have memorized it.  Most live it every day.  But have you ever noticed the test is not a directive? It’s an interrogatory.  It doesn’t command you to be truthful, it asks if the things you think, do, and say are truthful.  Four questions you ask yourself.  It’s a different way of approaching ethics.

The Four Way test was created in 1932 by Businessman and Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor who was asked to step in and rescue a company from bankruptcy.  The Club Aluminum Company was in financial shambles despite manufacturing and selling good kitchen ware.  Taylor believed the company could be salvaged and become successful again if it acted ethically.  Here’s what he later wrote:

Our industry, as was true of scores of other industries, had a code of ethics but the code was long, almost impossible to memorize and therefore impractical. We felt we needed a simple measuring stick of ethics which everyone in the company could quickly memorize. We also believed the proposed test should not tell our people what they must do, but ask them questions which would make it possible for them to find out whether their proposed plans, policies, statements or actions were right or wrong.  The four questions:

 Is it the truth?

  1. Is it fair to all concerned?
  2. Will it build good will and better friendships?
  3. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

 Taylor then confessed this about the Four Way Test:

I placed this little test under the glass top of my desk and determined to try it out for a few days before talking to anyone else in the company about it. I had a very discouraging experience. I almost threw it into the wastepaper basket the first day when I checked everything that passed over my desk with the first question, “Is it the truth?” I never realized before how far I often was from the truth and how many untruths appeared in our company’s literature, letters and advertising.

After about sixty days of faithful constant effort on my part to live up to the Four-Way Test I was thoroughly sold on its great worth and at the same time greatly humiliated, and at times discouraged, with my own performance as president of the company.

 Despite his discouragement Taylor knew he was on to something.  With his leadership, and the Four Way Test, The Club Aluminum company came back from the dead, repaid creditors, and restored employee and company fortunes.  And that wasn’t all.  Taylor also observed:

We have found you cannot constantly apply the Four-Way Test to all your relations with others eight hours each day in business without getting into the habit of doing it in your home, social and community life. You thus become a better father, a better friend, and a better citizen.

 Talk about transformative!  Four little questions changed Mr. Taylor, his company, and thousands—maybe millions—of lives around the world.  Mr. Taylor made a tremendous impact through the Four Way Test by asking questions rather than issuing directives.  We can too.  Memorize the Four Way Test.  Apply it.  Live it.  And make it your legacy by passing it on to others.

1 Comments for : Questions that Transform
    • Dick Hefton
    • April 1, 2024

    Interesting, especially the thought of spending a half-century in an industry committed to bringing nothing but truth to the public!
    On the separate “business side” of the enterprise no test was necessary when it was learned a customer inadvertently overpaid Billings over several months!! It was quickly corrected.

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