Jeff Sommer, New York Times business writer on investment strategies, has an interesting article in the May 1 business section about credibility and the ugly truth when it comes to investment advice. He quotes Professor Shlomo Benartzi, a behavioral economist from UCLA as outlining the benefit of being honest as it relates to investment credibility. I guess we need academics to reinforce honesty with the investment community these days. As an example, if a stock picked by the investment advisor goes up and does unexpectedly better (like oil), the right thing to do is to tell the ugly truth (you didn’t expect the stock to do that well), and vice versa.
Upon reading this I realize that it is important to reinforce the value of telling the ugly truth in any business situation. When something happens and expectations are not met, (positive or negative) tell the ugly truth. It is difficult to repeat or prevent something if we don’t understand it. It is also important to be clear about the action we’re taking to learn what happened, and why and how we might do things differently in the future. If we work for or with someone that doesn’t want the truth, then we’re probably working for the wrong people.
Character Move: just like our mom’s always told us, telling the truth, even when it is ugly, is the best policy. The truth comes out; it’s only a matter of time. Think about where we might be more explicit about the ugly truth right now. Our credibility will rise accordingly.
Telling the Ugly Truth in the Triangle,
The MIT economists Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo found that the world’s poor typically spend about 2% of their income educating their children and often a larger percentage on alcohol and tobacco. It may feel politically incorrect but the blunt and ugly secret, supported by UN studies, is that if the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine and cigarettes, their children’s prospects would be transformed.
My intent with the above is not to get into a political discussion on a very complex problem. However, one of the foundations for self accountability is honesty and acceptance. Once we face the truth, it is possible to move forward. Often times the challenges we face seem out of our control. But when we step back and take an honest assessment, there is usually much more we can do. It takes the will to change, and belief that we can change things for the better. The alternative, accepting victimization and the consequences, is in my opinion the far worse alternative.
Altering where and how we apply our personal resources, however meager, often can lead to profound change. Try a few percent here instead of there …it is a great feeling to embrace self accountability.
Bella DePaulo, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, noted (in a New York Times Maureen Dowd column May 23, 2010) that “…lies are like wishes. So when you wish you were a certain kind of person that you know you’re not, and maybe you’re not willing to do what it would take to become that person, or can’t go back, then it becomes very tempting to lie.”
We are so human that it is hard sometimes not “go with the misinformation flow” because as DePaulo notes, “Your lies often reveal who you wish you were.”
Dowd’s article refers to Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Attorney General, with an incredibly impressive resume, who allegedly misrepresented his armed service participation in Vietnam. He is in the public eye and scrutinized by the media. You and I are mostly scrutinized by ourselves. In the past, I have made the mistake of letting an exaggeration go on. It was wishful thinking and not being honest first of all with myself. I’ve learned from it.
It is liberating to understand the psychology behind it and I believe useful to remind ourselves that self accountability is based on the honesty of asking ourselves what and how we can move things forward and not just wishing we could.