As the end of the year approaches, it is time to look back and consider the things we've seen and learned over the past year. One thing that stands out, whether it be in politics, technology or general news, is that we seem to be at war with the truth. I think my earlier post on telling the truth really defined the year for me and the subject needs one more pass before we break for the holidays. What brought this to mind was the Media Matters award to Sarah Palin as the "Misinformer of the Year." Given how powerful and successful Fox News is, I think it is time to reflect on the fact that we might not be able to handle the truth, and in a world of hard choices, this could be a very dangerous shortcoming.
Misinformation as a Practice
Fox News hardly had the corner on misinformation when the WikiLeaks event occurred. Rather than focus on the apparent illegal behavior of several governments, we focused mostly on Army Pfc. Bradley Manning and branding WikiLeaks as a criminal organization. Fortunately there are a number of folks fighting this trend. Some, like Daniel Ellsberg, have historic precedence. In the end, this whole event may reflect a trend toward internal rebellion that would be better addressed by not covering it up.
Drifting over to technology, I often joke that Jon Stewart regularly takes on the most powerful people in politics, but has only dared to take on Steve Jobs once. Apple, as good as it is, was connected to cover-ups over a series of products last year, at least once suicide, and even seemed to have its own private Stormtroopers, which I think should have caused more concern than it did, but at least caught Jon Stewart's interest.
What is particularly troubling is that in this age, when we are able to look up almost anything on the Web, we tend to focus on those things that agree with our preset expectations. In short, rather than search for the truth, we seem much more content to validate whatever decision we have already made.
Exposure for the Analyst
The clear message to internal and external analysts is that the information most valued is the information that conforms to an existing belief, not the information that challenges it. Over the last decade, a few of us have consistently raised our hands and said, "The emperor has no clothes," but as I look back, I realize that there are far fewer of us now than there were 10 years ago. The independent voices are being weeded out, and while that may increase the value of those that are left (I'm clearly not complaining about the lack of work), in the end, our voices are increasingly unable to rise above the others singing in harmony that the wrong path is right.
Exposure for the Company
If you look at companies like HP, Apple and Netflix, you can see some troubling signs. Apple's secondary marketing stats are dropping. I would link to the stats, but they aren't public yet. They reflect that Apple may have lost a critical resource in either its marketing or advertising agency. They also reflect that the company is one that is critically tied to a few nearly irreplaceable people led by Steve Jobs. But rather than addressing the exposure, the company moves aggressively to end the discussion. I'm one of a small handful of analysts that reporters can call to talk about Apple's risks. The other analysts, perhaps wisely, avoid this topic. But risks exist for every company, and not talking about them certainly doesn't make them go away.
With HP, we blessed the company's success for much of the decade but didn't see that its CEO, Mark Hurd, was a thug, and was destroying the firm from within by bleeding the employees dry. Now under investigation by the SEC, he was fortunately replaced but not because he was killing the company; it was because he couldn't apparently tell the truth (the back story continues to evolve). Now that is a bad combination.
Today, stock market darling Netflix has been identified as a company, like Apple, that is ruled by fear. It has a high turnover rate and the perception that it pays well is apparently just that: a perception. Strangely enough, it is being pounded for a lack of process, though that one fault is likely one of the reasons it has been so nimble and able to survive market turns and to turn back attacks by one-time major players.
Wrapping Up: The Truth is Important
The the most important thing I can leave you with this year is this: The truth is important and it needs to be encouraged and nurtured. Our lives, jobs, careers and significant others may at some point depend on a single decision and if the decision maker doesn't have the truth, the outcome will likely not be in our best interest. And in all aspects of our lives, it is important to avoid those that have problems with telling the truth. You only have to look at those who invested with Bernie Madoff to see that. The truth is important; we need to learn to handle it.