Management and Consulting Services

Why Let Facts Get in the Way of a Great Story?

5/29/2012

2217130One of the conversations I had with one of those “muckraker” journalists left me with this result…this guy wasn’t interested in the facts at all, he believed “there was a great human interest story,” and he and his perp-partner were going to write about it.  Clearly, he was too invested; the premise was fully-self-serving, if not downright mis-leading.  At least, in my opinion and from my experience…that’s what the data (“facts”) indicated to me.

So, at that point–further conversation was useless; I ended the call.

In management roles, we get to deal with the “stories” all the time, whether it’s testing the data, corroborating the information, listening to the sales pitches and the “tall tales,” culling the “wheat from the chaff,” finding the actionable management information—that’s what we do.  We learn people, who we can trust, who we cannot, where we go to double-check things…and the process seems inefficient many times, until we find the active, trust-able sources…and we stick with them.  The most valuable people who have been around me were those people who covered my gaps, made me “sit-down-and-listen,” and who had the conviction to take me “below-the-waterline.”  After NOT listening/acting from their information a time or two…and ending up with sub-optimal results (a.k.a. “making mistakes”)…I quickly learned to trust those people.  I didn’t have to like them, but I learned to listen.

Maybe one of the best lessons I’ve learned along the way came from a boss I had mid-career.  I thought I was analytical…not compared to this guy.  His approach to a presentation was:

  • Give me the lead-in sentence at the top of the chart.
  • At the end, give me the result, conclusion, or action-to-be-taken.
  • In between, GIVE ME THE DATA.

That’s how he thought, that’s how he acted…just…“from the facts!”

So, if I can’t get facts, and corroborate them, I go to the next source, and the next, and the next.  If all I get is stories (excuses, what-ifs, if-onlys, next-times, etc.), it’s time to find new sources…and employees.  And if I get a story that’s not substantiated from the data, or cannot get it crisply communicated, I simply don’t believe it.

After all, if it’s a SWAG attempt, estimate, excuse, effort to sway me without the facts…and the same for a news article, periodical or even a book…it therefore belongs on the “fiction” counter, and it cannot be believed…or trusted.

Ronald Reagan was right.