I’ve learned this quote from an excellent article in The Guardian by Jonathan Freedland about ‘post-truth politics’ (Post-truth politicians such as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are no joke)
I don’t know if there was ever a time when the plain truth was at he centre of intellectual, emotional, or political action, but certainly not these days.
Freedland refers to two phenomena. One is the Donald Trump campaign in which figures, statements, assertions, diagnosis, etc, are systematically untrue, without provoking a major dent in popularity. Maybe the populus don’t care about the truth. Apparently The Washington Post’s fact Checker blog has awarded the Trump campaign with top ‘dishonesty rankings’. Congratulations.
Who cares about the lie of ‘thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attacks’, as Trump proposes? Well, not many apparently, including citizens of new Jersey, who never saw one.
The other is in the UK, the Leave (the European Union) campaign which make up the numbers of a disastrous stay and a nirvana leaving as they go along, and get furious ( and offended) when other people, from the Bank of England to the IMF, bring up the opposite numbers. In IMF’s Lagarde assessment, an exit is ‘from pretty bad to very bad’. And she adds, BTW, we’ve got the numbers.
The information era, 24/7 news and social media blah, blah, blah has made impossible to filter and reflect. Signal and noise get blurred. Anything goes. Weapons of Mass Destruction may not be there, Muslims parties celebrating 9/11 may be invisible, and people in the UK, including farmers, actually get money from the EU, but, hey, these are not the points, aren’t they?
Let’s not dismiss this as an exclusive political phenomena, pretending that life inside business organizations, where I sit most of the time, is more strict and serious and fact driven. Or that a scientific background, or field of work, immunises people against the distortion. Carl Sagan’s famous Baloney Detection Kit was created as a warning on how easy is to use the scientific language to justify anything.
In a very small scale, perhaps insignificant in the contact of the above, in the consulting engagements carried out by my team, we create an ongoing ‘one page of facts’ that, informally I call The Truth. That means where we are today, or are not, what are the facts, the single meeting point of the truth. As opposed to twenty different versions of ‘that truth’ scattered all over. You’d be surprise how powerful this is. In some mature organizations, even a total headcount number is often ‘questionable’ and ‘debatable’.
Management practices are full of half truths to say the least, as an old Jeffrey Pfeffer’s book reminded us (Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management)
Short of having a unit similar to the Washington Post on ‘facts checking’ issuing ‘dishonesty rankings’, I would recommend not kidding ourselves in the business organization thinking that only ‘politics’ is at its best economical with the truth and at its worse, plain lie management. Let’s take a close look at ourselves.
(The quote is from Mary McCarthy criticism of the novelist Lillian Helman)