So how do we tell the truth? Here are a few ways I found work:
Inform the uniformed: Challenging the accepted situation by citing reality may get you sent to Siberia. But it depends on whom you’re talking to. Over time executives become ill informed – ironically – because timid employees avoid giving them bad news. For the executives, the truth becomes a rare and valuable revelation, and you a valuable messenger if you relay the truth in a way that isn’t tied to your personal agenda.
Collectively decide to be honest: Being honest is much harder than it sounds. Much of the mediocrity in companies is a result of superficial niceties that make it impossible to productively critique ideas. Being honest means praising ideas worthy of praise, and criticizing ideas worthy of criticism. Before doing it on an individual level, everyone in a group should agree that honest interaction is necessary to improve the organization, and that honest expression is not personal condemnation.
Reframe ideas: Any current business issue stands on an implicit context of ideas that are part of the company’s culture. This collected wisdom is the frame through which new information is interpreted, even if the freshness date of those ideas is long past, such as growing for years but thinking, “We’re only a small company.” You can reframe the issues by presenting an alternate idea supported by a different context. “Now that we have 2000 employees and four offices, we have the capacity to consider exporting our products.”
Appeal to science: Disinformation is rare among scientists and engineers because their livelihood depends on working within the physical constraints of reality. You’re not likely to hear, “That’s right, Victor, we’ll have that Internet bandwidth commodity exchange done by Tuesday afternoon.” When I work closely with engineers and programmers, they ruthlessly critique business ideas because they know exactly what it takes to implement them (and know they’ll later be responsible if they don’t speak up now). Citing scientific reality – or aligning yourself with scientists – becomes a useful sieve to filter out disinformation.