Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Exaggerated Truth-Telling Is Commonplace, But Not Admirable

LinkedIn Pulse, Feb. 7, 2017

by Theodore Kinni

In 1919, as the White and Red armies fought a brutal, seesaw war for control of Russia, British War Secretary Winston Churchill prodded his government to commit troops to the fight. The Bolsheviks, he declared, were “swarms of typhus bearing vermin.” They “hop and caper like ferocious baboons amid the ruins of their cities and the corpses of their victims.” Churchill’s rhetoric was so inflammatory that, after he addressed the House of Commons on the topic, Tory Party leader A.J. Balfour felt compelled to comment. With quintessential British coolness, the former Prime Minister told the future Prime Minister, “I admire the exaggerated way you tell the truth.”

Unfortunately, exaggerated truth-telling is as commonplace in business as in politics. Walter Isaacson cites Steve Job’s “reality-distortion field” repeatedly in his go-to biography of the Apple’s mercurial chief. “[Jobs] would assert something—be it a fact about world history or a recounting of who suggested an idea at a meeting—without considering the truth,” writes Isaacson. He would conjure up an impossible production date, for instance, and demand it be met. Surprisingly, as Isaacson recounts, it often was.

Elon Musk seems to have picked up Job’s penchant for exaggerated truth-telling. Musk says that Tesla’s factory in Fremont, CA will produce as many as 500,000 vehicles in 2018—an “extraordinary leap in production” from less than 84,000 in 2016, according to Jeff Rothfeder’s insightful analysis in The New Yorker. Can Musk’s employees and suppliers deliver on his promise or is this exaggerated truth-telling? Well, as The Wall Street Journal calculates it, Tesla has missed Musk’s projections more than 20 times in the past five years. Read the rest here.

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