Recently, I caught up with one of our angel investors for lunch: Peter is a brilliant entrepreneur from England who has lived all over the world. He has built several businesses and now lives a dream life with a house on a harbor, a happy family and a broad smile.
As our conversation drifted from an update of my company to a deep discussion about life itself, I asked him what he thought was the secret to success. I expected the standard “never give up” or some other T-shirt slogan, but what he said took me by surprise. “The secret to success in business and in life is to never, ever, ever tell a lie,” he said.
That stumped me. I know that lying is bad and telling the truth is good — we learn that as children. But the secret to success? I looked at Peter, confused and skeptical. He nodded and assured me, “Complete honesty is the access to ultimate power.”
As we spoke, I started thinking about the little lies I tell every day — often without thinking about it, but not always. I have been guilty of exaggerating a metric here or there or omitting facts for my own advantage. Each time, there is a little voice inside my head that tells me it is the wrong thing to do. I have wondered whether everyone does this or whether it is just me. Could this be what has been holding me back?
I did some research and it seems most of us lie quite a bit. A study by the University of Massachusetts found that 60 percent of adults could not have a 10-minute conversation without lying at least once. The same study found that 40 percent of people lie on their résumés and a whopping 90 percent of those looking for a date online lie on their profiles. Teenage girls lie more than any other group, which is attributed to peer pressure and expectation. The study did not investigate the number of lies told by entrepreneurs looking for investment capital, but I fear we would top the chart.
Most people lie about little things to make them look good. A study by a film rental company found that 30 percent of respondents lied about having seen “The Godfather.” It’s a classic film, we assume everyone has seen it, and we lie that we have too, because we want to fit in. People lie to stave off the consequences of making a mistake, to buy more time or to spare someone’s feelings. Their hearts may be in the right place, but they are still telling lies.
Peter has invested in hundreds of businesses. Every time he sees a pitch, he waits until the end of the presentation before asking the entrepreneurs to go back through the deck and point out every lie they have just told. There are always plenty. As soon as the entrepreneurs open up with the truth, they can start managing what to do next.
Peter maintains that telling lies is the No. 1 reason entrepreneurs fail. Not because telling lies makes you a bad person but because the act of lying plucks you from the present, preventing you from facing what is really going on in your world. Every time you overreport a metric, underreport a cost, are less than honest with a client or a member of your team, you create a false reality and you start living in it.
You know the right path to take and choose another, and in so doing you lose control of the situation. Now, rather than tackling the problem head on, you have to manage the fallout from the lie. I know people who seem to have spent their entire careers inflating the truth and then fighting to meet the expectations they have set.
Like me, Peter reads Buddhist philosophy and applies it to business. One of its lessons is to remain in the present, a more peaceful, creative and productive place from which to operate. Every time I tell a lie, I know that I am no longer present. I feel a tightening in my chest and sweat on my palms — just a small amount because I only tell little lies. But lies they are. They place me in a false future, increase my level of stress and prevent me from being as creative as I can be when I’m fully present. Stress saps our energy and causes nasty consequences for our bodies. We know that lying creates stress; polygraph tests measuring blood pressure, perspiration, pulse and skin conductivity can pinpoint a lie with tremendous accuracy.
I recently discovered firsthand the corrosive effect of lying. For several years, I have worked as a director of a nonprofit organization. We do great work in the community but as a team we have always floundered. A few weeks ago, I caught the leader of our group lying — not whoppers, but a series of tales about why he was late, why someone could not make a meeting or why emails had not been read. I confronted him and he justified his lying, saying that it avoided unpleasant consequences.
It was obvious why our team wasn’t working: People didn’t trust each other. The result was a culture of obfuscation and backstabbing in which we achieved less than we were capable of achieving. Staff members and volunteers became disheartened and eventually left. The leader’s constant lies, no matter how insignificant they seemed to him, had caused a breakdown of integrity and trust in the organization, and without integrity and trust nothing worked.
Since my meeting with Peter a few months ago, I’ve thought about truth and its relationship to creativity, peace, and ultimately success. I decided to test his ideas by trying to be 100 percent honest and transparent all of the time, even when I did not have to be. It was harder and more frightening than I expected. It is embarrassing to admit that I caught myself telling many more lies than I realized, most to protect myself. Telling the truth can be a tough option, and it made me feel much more vulnerable.
But the results have been striking. In an investor pitch six months ago, when I ran through our financial model and budget, I was open about where money had been spent poorly because of mistakes I had made — even though there was no way the investor could have found this out on his own. I was nervous, but the majority of investors I pitch say no anyway. So I decided to try an experiment: the total truth. At the end of our conversation, he said, “I really appreciate how transparent you’ve been with me, Rebekah. Give me a day to think about it.” The next day he called back and invested. I was stunned!
I’ve stuck with this philosophy ever since. It’s transformed my sense of peace and coincided with our company’s most productive period ever. Coincidence?
If you are reading this post and thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me — I never lie,” you are probably lying to yourself. If you try being honest and transparent about everything, I’m confident that you will find it both difficult and rewarding — and that it will make a measurable difference in your business.
Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry.
I was outside the Trader Joe’s at 21st and 6th at around 2:30 pm last Wednesday. I was wearing oversized sunglasses and a small straw fedora hat, light blue jeans, a black t-shirt-like top, and had freshly washed shoulder-length dirty blond hair with bangs. I’m 29 but people sometimes guess I’m anywhere from 28 to 30. I was carrying two paper grocery bags. You were walking by me in the opposite direction, carrying groceries, too, but only one bag. You asked if you could help and when I tried to explain that then your hands would be just as full as mine, I dropped a bottle of salsa, red, medium spicy Trader Joe’s brand (or Trader Jose’s, as you corrected me) but it didn’t shatter which we both found interesting. I told you my name was Lila (L-I-L-A) and you told me you had a cousin who pronounced it the same way but spelled it differently (L-E-I-L-A). It turned out we were both from the same area code in New Jersey (551) and we talked about our hometowns for a bit and that diner where everyone used to go after games in high school. Then you walked me home carrying one of my two bags even though I said it made no sense to, and you insisted on bringing them all the way inside for me, and then I made a pot of coffee even though I was only making one cup for you, and then you explained about French presses and Kerrig (sp?) machines. Then we both looked at the clock at the same time and realized we had somehow been talking about coffee for over an hour! You looked in my eyes and said it felt like we had somehow known each other for a long time and I said “I agree” and then we made out on my green quilted couch with a blue stain on the left armrest, and after our very first kiss you pulled away from me and caught your breath and just said the word “electric.” Then you kissed me again and we made out until we both looked at the clock at the same time again and realized we had been making out for three hours. Then we watched Iron Chef together and then Planet Earth, the African plains episode, and we both agreed how that was totally the jackpot Planet Earth, because so many are about jellyfish or algae but all anyone wants to really see are giraffes & monkeys & elephants, etc. I said I didn’t want you to leave and you said “me neither” and you slept over at my place in borrowed navy blue pajamas w/ yellow stripes and a hole in the left knee from when my brother visited me and we both said we weren’t cuddlers but we cuddled anyway for almost an hour, and then finally you slept on the left side of the bed which was perfect b/c I sleep on the right. I slept on my back which you said was pretentious and I said “what do you mean? That’s just how I sleep! How can it be pretentious?” and you said “like you think you’re a beautiful angel or something” and I said “maybe you’re just really into me” and we kissed again. Then you turned to sleep on your stomach w/ your head facing left and I said “doesn’t that hurt your neck?” and you said for some reason usually not, but sometimes yes, and that your fantasy when you were a kid was to get a bed with a hollowed out hole straight down from the pillowso you could sleep with your head face down and straight and I said, “Like a massage chair?” and it turned out you had never had a massage, so I said let’s go this weekend so you could check out if that was similar to what you had been thinking of as a kid, and if it’s how you want to sleep, it’d be weird, but hey, it’s your life, and you laughed and said “deal” twice. “Deal. Deal.” Like that. Then you realized your phone (a Motorola) had died and I didn’t have the right charger, and you said that’s probably a sign that you should get going anyway and take care of some stuff at home, and I said cool, and then we made a plan that you’d come over on Friday and I’d have to cook a dinner that included every single ingredient that I had in those Trader Joe’s bags, Iron Chef style. But then the next day, you didn’t come over or call to explain why, or reschedule it. I know that I gave you my number but now I realize that sometimes I write numbers in a scribble, especially when I’m excited, which I was, so maybe you haven’t been able to decode it or left a message for the wrong number. I know this sounds crazy to say after one encounter but I kind of fell for you pretty hard & it has been forever since I’ve connected to anyone like this & my heart is kind of broken in a million pieces. Hit me up if you think anything in this description matches anythingyou remember, and if so, maybe we can chill sometime? You were wearing a red t-shirt with a pocket.
— from "One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories." by B.J. Novak
Editor’s Note: Way more excited for this one than I ever were for Submarine. Moss still hasn’t quite grown out of his “brit” Wes Anderson sensibilities, though feels like he’s channelling a good amount of Terry Gilliam here as well. Which in and of itself makes it very interesting; visually speaking. Now consider the cast and the source material, and it’s not a stretch to think we’re in for a serious treat.