Does reality matter? I'm often in meetings with vendors who are complaining about what a competitor has said because it has little to do with reality. In some cases, the statements about performance, even wins, are misleading or outright false. Years ago, I worked for a CMO who, when I questioned if we were outright lying, argued that what was being said wasn't lying it was "marketing" and that I clearly didn't understand "marketing." He was eventually fired. Even to this day, that exchange has me wondering whether the truth matters.
Let me provide some context.
This has been an interesting week for me. I watched a video profile on Larry Ellison by Bloomberg (it is worth watching and not that long) that brought up the point: If Ellison had believed in telling the truth, Oracle likely wouldn't have become a company. The key message was that his dishonesty was what created the foundation for the company. The actual quote is "We can't be successful if we don't lie to customers." A couple of days ago, in a piece on MarketWatch praising Steve Jobs as CEO of the decade, I was quoted accurately as saying "he is not somebody any one of us would like watching our kids, but, in terms of running a company, he's excellent."
I had folks very upset because I didn't just glow about Jobs, and some people translated what I said into something really nasty. Not only did they not like that I was telling the truth, but they felt strongly that in a positive piece on someone only positive comments belonged there.
Most recently, I've been watching Sarah Palin's response to the WikiLeaks issue and instead of arguing that she wouldn't be as corrupt as the folks who were exposed by the leaks, she seemed to say that she'd be better at doing cover-ups. Essentially, she seemed to be saying that she'd be a more effective liar. Now there is a platform: Vote for me, I won't get caught. Yet after watching what happened to Congressman Rangel, even I'm wondering that, given that politicians are corrupt and don't really get punished, maybe not getting caught should be a platform.
And then finally, and back to Apple, a bunch of us were circulating a piece on SF Gate that talked about someone's idea of a dream job, which really just appeared to be pimping Apple products for money and freebees. We imagined that it would turn into a nightmare if the winner ever told the truth about a problem with an Apple product. (They'd be pulling six inches of Steve Jobs' boot out of their butts.)
It isn't hard to ask whether the truth matters, to us or anyone. But it is hard to argue that it should.
I spend a lot of time undoing mistakes and hearing stories of people that entered into contracts, partnerships and even marriages where it is clear that they ignored the warning signs and got badly screwed. The recurring lesson for all of us is that the truth often doesn't matter as much to us as it should.
A few years ago I wanted to buy a motorcycle and was presented with a deal that seemed too good to be true. I figured I had seen what the problems were and could address them, but I missed entirely that the guy had lied about the age of the bike. Ultimately, I outsmarted myself, and my wife brings this up pretty much anytime I get eager about something and don't engage my brain properly. I'm sure most of us have this in our history and given that we live in a world where the truth is increasingly optional, making sure our skepticism is well-fueled is likely our best defense.
This all serves as simply a reminder that any of us can be fooled and it has never been more important that we not be. Looking at all the things we want to do with a skeptical eye, particularly if they appear too good to be true, is an important defense mechanism and one we should make sure is well-trained. In the end, and as we move into the New Year, my hope is that we are all fooled less often. While we can remember that perceptions are our reality, the closer to reality our perceptions are, the less likely to be fooled we will be.
And suddenly I'm channeling Yoda.
I was going to end there but the line that is running around in my head is Jack Nicholson's classic line, "You can't handle the truth" in the movie a "A Few Good Men." What personally scares me with this current WikiLeaks scandle (Russia just came out in support - now that's irony) is that maybe we can't handle the truth and that could be our endemic problem. Maybe a few more of us should be reading the Skeptical Inquirer more and the traditional media less.