Tabloid headlines, once the largely the purview of shopping center checkout lines, now seem to dominate U.S. politics, but this is hardly new.
A few weeks ago I picked up a new magazine called Mental Floss. Its cover story went over the incredible amount of lying that has been going into elections throughout U.S. history. TechNewsWorld carries a Boston Herald story on just how bad it has become this year in the United States.
I'm sure it has parallels in other countries, but some of the stories that were told of earlier elections are downright chilling when they aren't a little funny.
I liked the piece so much I subscribed to the magazine on the spot, but this dovetailed with some of my recent thoughts on whether technology will make the current election a more accurate one or whether people are too lazy to actually look up the facts.
You may recall that a few days ago I pointed to Wikipedia and what appears to be a well-intentioned, but broken process there to ensure the quality of my own -- or anyone's -- biography and why open source does not assure quality.
It comes down to the same question: Will people do what is needed if they are responsible for quality? So far, the answer has been largely "no."
But, in the United States, people's homes, jobs and lives effectively are at risk by this crisis, so, assuming Maslow is right, there should be the highest level of interest in ensuring the right people are elected to solve the problem. But if people base their decisions on lies, that clearly won't be the case.
The Importance of Getting It Right
A few years ago, I was having lunch with one of my peers who knew and had worked with Donald Rumsfeld.
According to him, Rumsfeld had a long history of covering up problems in business and was a walking catastrophe while he was in the private sector. This was because he was incredibly effective at selling ideas that were poorly researched, and he viewed anyone correcting him as disloyal. In other words, he believed strongly he couldn't be wrong. Undoubtedly people like that got the country into the mess that it is in.
A few years earlier, shortly after Carly Fiorina took over the job at HP, she selected an executive with a similar MO to Rumsfeld's to run a major part of HP's business. The result was similar and put one of the most significant nails in her own coffin at HP.
It was ironic that a number of my peers at the time -- I had not worked with the guy -- predicted this would be the outcome. They said Fiorina could have avoided this problem if she'd just asked someone sitting at her own dinner table about him. But she didn't, obviously secure in her belief that the guy's resume wasn't padded.
Even before that, Ellen Hancock, the most highly placed woman at IBM, had a similar rep. She moved fluidly from disaster to disaster, each collapsing shortly after she left with the blame seldom passing to her, yet still got top jobs at places like Apple.
Steve Jobs, to his credit, saw this almost immediately and she was one of the first people he fired when he took over the company. Had he not, there would have been no OS X and likely no Apple today.
Once again, simply paying attention and doing a little homework made a huge difference and, in that case, probably saved the company.
One wonders if a similar focus could have prevented the mess the United States is in now.
Taking the Time to Do It Right
During the next few months a lot of you will be heads-down as your companies and divisions undergo substantial changes. These changes will result from shifting budgets, mergers, consolidations and catastrophic weather events.
In all cases, there will be a lot of good reasons why you won't have the time to really dot every "I" or cross every "T." But, when it comes to people, I think the effort you take to assure, good or bad, the information you are getting on someone is accurate will pay back huge dividends.
Good people can make great companies and bad people can turn great companies -- and countries -- into wastelands.
Whether it is in hiring and promotion -- God save us from the "screw up, move up" mentalities -- or in selecting a new chief executive for your country, take the time to make sure your assumptions are valid because, if you don't, this time it is your neck on the line along with the rest of us.
Just remember, on politicians, snopes and factcheck.org are great places to see if there is any truth to what a politician or an e-mail from a "friend" says. When it comes to new or existing employees, look at what happened after they left jobs.
On the political front, and as an aside, Snopes has been aggregating this stuff by politician and it is kind of fun at parties to point out what people are saying isn't true. Snopes, in particular, is a great place to go to keep track of the bogus stuff coming out. It has pages on each of the major players ranked, I'm guessing by popularity (if I were McCain I'd be worried).
It amazes me how many of us fall for lies like the "radical muslim" one on Obama (this one is true) or this "I am a war criminal" one on McCain (this one is true) and likely fall as easily for fictitious employee stories (I included both the lies and the true stories to suggest we don't discount them either. We need to form decisions based on facts).
While fiction is fun, we should outlaw it as a foundation for making critical decisions.