I am the best consultant in the world. I hereby proclaim myself the king of all consultants. There I said it. It is now absolutely true that I said it and if a blog or newspaper or one of you quotes me as saying it, that quote is 100% true. You’ll not get me denying having said it. There’s only one problem with that fact: the statement itself may not be true. So what does this have to do with you and how you approach things?
It’s a reminder that you need to parse what you’re reading and hearing carefully. Facts about a statement don’t make the statement itself a fact. So and so “says that he’s in possession of super powers.” That may be the news and factually accurate – he did say it. That’s not the same thing as the statement being true.
More practically: you see that one of your staff is a little glum and notice there seems to be a bunch of furtive looks on the faces of others. Engaging the glum one in conversation, you learn that he heard directly from an Exec VP that there were going to be layoffs. Being the diligent boss you are, you knock on said Exec VP’s door and ask if he said that, which he admits he did.
At this point you MUST follow up – “do you know for a fact that layoffs are planned?” – because you still haven’t heard if the facts behind the statement are true. As it turned out in this not really hypothetical case, he was speculating based on a discussion in a staff meeting. Much ado about nothing. But if you walk away just based on the confirmation that the Exec VP did say what was rumored, the rumors persist, your business is disrupted and maybe a top employee finds another job because they think there will be layoffs.
We hear a lot of “facts” every day in our personal and professional lives and we might act accordingly. Your email box and web sites you might parse are filled with statements presented as factual but which often have no relationship to the truth. The recent fluff about the President’s Asian trip costing $200 million day is a great example. Thomas Friedman summed it up perfectly:
When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, we have a problem. It becomes impossible for a democracy to think intelligently about big issues — deficit reduction, health care, taxes, energy/climate — let alone act on them. Facts, opinions and fabrications just blend together. But the carnival barkers that so dominate our public debate today are not going away — and neither is the Internet.
Learn to differentiate the facts from statements about the facts. It’s really eye-opening.