Would I lie to you?

Let’s start where we left off last week – with a quotation. This one’s from Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide) and it’s about writing. Writing is easy. You just stare at a blank sheet of paper until your forehead starts to bleed.

Douglas – RIP – clearly wasn’t talking about a weekly blog of around 500 words. But I know the feeling – usually around 7pm on Monday. When you’re committed to a weekly blog, seven days pass remarkably quickly. Sometimes I stare at the screen and think ‘what am I going to write about this week?’

But this one’s easy – at least starting is easy. And it’s a simple introduction as well, because all I need to say is “thank you.”

Last week’s blog on quotations had the highest number of views of any of my blogs, and the highest number of comments. So thank you – your replies make the blog what it is. Besides, where else would I find a group of people who respond to a business blog by offering me quotes from Peter Pan and Winnie the Pooh? And I keep thinking of what Dave Rawlings said. There are only two questions that matter, ‘Who are you? And what do you want?’ Curiously, those were exactly the words Mandy Cartwright used when I offered to carry her books home from school…

When I was writing last week’s blog, I was looking for a couple of slightly off-beat quotes as a contrast. For some reason I Googled ‘Jack Nicholson quotes.’ There was everything you’d expect – including some I won’t share with you – but there were a couple that really interested me.

The minute you’re not learning I believe you’re dead – which exactly chimes with so many of last week’s quotes about the constant need to adapt to change.

And this one: There’s only two people in your life you should lie to…the police, and your girlfriend.

Before you ask, no, I’m not in trouble with Inspector Plod – and no to the other one as well. The reason it struck a chord was that the first business quote I can remember was also about lying. The book was Up the Organization by Bob Townsend, the man who built Avis into a global company, and this was the quote:

Friday night playing poker is fine. Otherwise don’t lie. Not to your wife, not to your children, not to your boss, not to your team and most of all not to yourself.

I read that when I was just starting in the business world and without sounding too good to be true, I hope I’ve lived by it ever since. And it’s especially true about the Alternative Board. Because if I’m not 100% truthful with the Board members, I’m cheating them. And if Board members aren’t 100% truthful with each other and – like Bob says – with themselves, then what’s the point?

(I hate writing this, but the older you get, the more you realise that when old Grimesy – or whatever your Physics teacher was called – said, “You’re only cheating yourself, stupid boy,” he was right.)

Should you lie in business? My view is no. If the client wants it in two weeks and you know damn well it’s going to be four, then the sooner you say so the better. Because two weeks from now the client’s going to know anyway, and the solids will hit the air conditioning even harder. Should you lie to your staff? Again, no. Because sooner or later someone will find out, and there goes your credibility, flying out of the window.

You may disagree. (I’d be disappointed if someone didn’t.) And remember to keep those quotes coming – I’ll publish an updated list in a fortnight or so. Here’s one more from Bob Townsend to finish: If you don’t do it excellently, don’t do it at all. Because if you don’t do it excellently, it won’t be profitable or fun. And if you’re not in business for profit or fun, what the hell are you doing here?

PS. Next week is special for me. It’ll be a year since I signed up to The Alternative Board. So to celebrate, look out for a totally different blog…



  1. Rebecca Gardner · November 4, 2010

    well… you’ve heard the phrase “under promise; over-deliver”? I hope that doesn’t count!

    apart from that, i have an innate inabilitiy to lie – i’d never make it in sales…

    • edreidyork · November 4, 2010

      I think “under-promise, over-deliver” is acceptable! Isn’t it funny how sales people are often the people who take the flak on this kind of subject…not wholly deserved in my view. A classic case of the poor examples tarnishing the reputation of the rest.

  2. Rich Cadden · November 4, 2010

    Whenever people talk about lies, I am reminded of two things:
    The first is a scene from one of my favourite British films, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrells. I am not going to type out the scene, but will let you check it out for yourself. Forgive the expletives, but you will get the jist…. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKX32WqDNDU

    Secondly, I am reminded of a quote from one of my philosophical friends who said “I will always lie to you”….which can be understod on two levels, you can either take the statement at face value or by definition means that that statement is a lie, so he will always tell me the truth…..

    As a master in NLP, I have also been through deception training, and you start to realise how many lies are told on a minute by minute basis. The training tells you to question, what is the reasoning behind the lie, rather than the lie itself…… Its interesting what you see, when you actually see what you see 🙂

  3. Lorraine Ives · November 4, 2010

    I made the promise years ago that I wouldn’t lie to my customers, family or anyone else because I hate being lied to – it’s a trust thing! If we don’t trust each other in these difficult times what hope have we got to put things right and make a future for our kids and their kids…..

  4. Rory Ryan · November 4, 2010

    Nice blog again Ed. I think the ability to lie to ourselves and pretend we are not is probably the worst curse when running a business.

    I agree about not lying in business with one exception. From 16 to 20 I worked part-time in a clothes shop. If a customer ever asked “Does this look good?”, my answer was always “yes, definitely” and sometimes “I like it so much I actually bought one myself”.

    When I was 30 I fell for that line in Brown Thomas and cursed myself afterwards! They were crap shoes and the guy didn’t have a pair at home!

  5. Mike Towers · November 5, 2010

    “He walks the ridge between insult and flattery with the sklll of a mountain goat”. That’s a not exactly verbatim but still memorable line from Spartacus. I heard it and decided I preferred people who are straight with me. At least I know where I stand with them.

  6. Dave Rawlings · November 5, 2010

    “Cursed is he who lies with any animal …” Sorry! I just Googled “lies”!

  7. Justin Hyam · November 5, 2010

    Afternoon Ed,

    Great Blog as always, but one that leaves a lot open to debate. If the purpose of the blog is not to lie to oneself and/or others, then I wholeheartedly agree, but if cheating is the question, then that opens up a whole can of worms….
    I’ll try to illustrate my point by using sport as an example (particularly as cheating in sport by way of drug use, team orders, sledging or gamesmanship is so much par for the course nowadays, but also as I have a much better understanding of sport than of business. (although the two can be argued to be the same!)).
    Anyway, unsuprisingly my example stems from Sailing, or more specifically The America’s Cup; where the result of a race or the entire match is often decided in the courtroom before or after the race, and not on the water during the race.
    In 1983, the Australians famously beat the Americans to end the longest winning streak in Sport in sports longest running competition. A lot of the plaudits for this amazing achievement was credited to Ben Lexcen, the designer of the Australian 12 Metre Yacht and it’s now famous “Winged Keel”. The following text is taken from the book “Winning and Defending The Cup” (i’ve simplified some of the text to save boring the pants of you with Sailing “Techy” speak)
    “While the elimination races proceeded, a series of arguements blew up over Australia II’s winged keel. The New York Yacht Club was seeking to have the Yacht disqualified, initially on the grounds that she was not a true 12 metre yacht, because a winged keel gave her an unfair advantage, and later on the grounds that dutch engineers had provided some input for the keel’s revolutionary design.
    The first process was dismissed as the 12 metre class is a Development Class, and therefore revolutionary ideas are allowable as that is what ensures a Devlopment Class is able to develop and therefore stay at the pinacle of it’s field. The second protest collapsed as the New York Yacht Club had insufficient time or evidence to prove it’s point, and opted to settle the match on the water.
    Even though the New York Yacht Club backed down and the cup series went ahead, many Americans believed Australia II should have been disqualified because of the alleged help Lexcen had from a Dutch Ship Model Basin where he tested his winged keel concept. The fact that the defending yacht “Liberty” had 3 valid measurement rating certificates and could be (and was!) modified overnight for light or heavy weather by adding or removing lead ballast, seemed not to worry their sense of fair play!”
    So was one side cheating to gain an advantage or were they pushing the bounds of the rules to the limit?
    In Sport, (as in business, I guess) the boundary between inovative brilliance and cheating is so fine, is it really possible to detect, as it can be argued both ways.
    I’ll close with a movie quote as usual, this sums up what I’m trying to get across. Taken from The Firm:-

    Gene Hackman
    “Do you think I’m asking you to break the law?”
    Tom Cruise
    “No, I just want to know how far you want it bent?”
    Gene Hackman
    “As far as you can without breaking it!”

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