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Stop lying on stage (startuplessonslearned.com)
125 points by amirmc on Oct 4, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 17 comments

This is the same issue we see with vanity metrics: companies are giving the appearance of sharing information while actually engaging in spin or outright deception.

I call it the CEO voice.

====== Normal conversation:

How was your weekend?

I dislocated a toe, slipped, then cut off a finger. It sucked spending the weekend in the hospital.

====== CEO conversation:

How was your weekend?

It was great! I had a new experience, got to meet some excellent doctors, and saw the inside of a state-of-the-art hospital too! I think we can do some cross promotional revshare with them. Just think about it -- every time you get sick, the hospital gives you a virtual item! We'll call it the Get Sick For Pixels campaign.

Every interaction isn't required to be happy, bubbly, and falsely sincere. Sometimes you can be honest and show a little humanity. (Blame it on thoughts like http://twitter.com/foundersatwork/status/22661724100)

If I had a tenth of cent for every time someone in business used the word 'exciting' to describe something that really isn't, I'd be a googolilionaire.

Honestly, wtf are MBA schools teaching these days, how to use the most generic, overused to the point of meaningless language to inaccurately express your thoughts in the interest of expediency and/or buzzword compliance, even after you finish writing your resume? They should assign some Melville and Hemingway in their marketing and leadership courses.

"It was great! I had a new experience, got to meet some excellent doctors, and saw the inside of a state-of-the-art hospital too!"

this is interesting, if we leave out the company/marketing context - for an individual seems like a very optimistic way to look at undesired events that come by in everyone's life.

You just switched on a eureka bulb in me. Thank you!. I am going to do this at every 'opportunity' I face.

As Malcolm Gladwell states in (what the dog says):

'Self-conciousness' is the enemy of 'interestingness'

(Yeah, I'm aware that Gladwell uses a lot of anecdotal evidence, still in this case I believe it's correct and exactly what the op says)

This article misses the main reason people omit information: to avoid embarrassing others.

I always talk about how Xobni Analytics failed, for example. Recently I've been talking a lot to others about my own weaknesses.

But by necessity most of the stories about Xobni involve other people, and the stories often involve internal conflict among some of the people on the team, and to tell those stories properly would require being honest about others' weaknesses as well. There's not a culture of doing that in public settings, and I don't expect that to change.

EDIT: the two exceptions that prove the rule are High Stakes No Prisoners by Charles Furgeson, and some of Steve Blank's recent blog posts, even though Steve doesn't name names. AFAIK, both of these guys are basically retired from the valley.

Good point. Is there no way around it? Because given that the #1 reason startups fail (according to pg) is founder fights, and that in organizations, it's usually people to people problems, those might be lessons well learnt.

However, given the old adage of "praise others in public, and only criticize them in private" (it assumes you're talking to the person you're criticizing in private), I've often avoided saying anything, not to mention it'd sound like I was bashing the other person, when in fact, not all puzzle pieces fit each other, with no completely fault to each piece.

The only ways I've seen is to talk about it after some time, and to not name names. But with time, accuracy comes into question, and if it's too recent, it's too easy to infer and deduce the names.

"On Stage" is too public - you can torpedo yourself with one careless remark. You can't put your flaws in context, and they are likely to be taken wrong. Private conversations are exactly the right place to learn the real nitty-gritty.

I completely agree.

When you have a private conversation with someone, you get a lot more of the shading and subtlety of their experiences.

In a public forum, people are most likely to share things that are safe. In private, people are more likely to share their opinions, impressions, and half formed ideas; all of which can change, but all of which give you the necessary context to form your own opinions.

If you shared everything publicly, I'm pretty sure you'd come off as some sort of a crank, flake, misanthrope or worse... Especially given the unforgiving nature of Internet memory.

I have spent a lot of time talking and writing about my failures. Now that Eric has outed speakers as lying on stage, I ought to drop the pretence and admit that I'm actually a very successful guy with a near-perfect track record ;-)

This is shocking. I'd expect this from Michael Arrington, but not from you ;)

"Lying" is way too harsh a word to use. It is a shame that everyone can't be completely open and know they will never be misinterpreted or taken out of context. But here is an example of when you are too open about your thoughts on record:


I totally disagree. That may have been too open to serve Mark Pinkus's interests, but it was exactly the right openness for the common good. If other companies were equally open, we'd be better off.

Successful startup CEO's have a lot of expectations on their shoulders.

On the other hand, they have little to gain by telling the whole truth to a new breed of entrepreneurs. What will they gain, a little appreciation?

I really doubt that admitting that they have made mistakes in the past would really be appreciated by employees, customers or investors.

Risks vs rewards dictates that they would continue to hide some of their past.

True, it's even harder if, you're an entrepreneur telling the whole truth while competing against a larger, slower, yet much more established organization that's completely lying and comes off looking better in the process.

I would love to see this happen, but there's the entire Public Relations industry to overcome. Not to mention Business mags.

I'm totally with Eric on this one. I've been on both sides of the issue. I like to think of myself as relatively transparent, but getting into gory details in a (relatively) short public talk is hard -- and there's the added challenge of no alcohol.

The absolute best startup conversations I've EVER had are small group dinners with peers. Most of the really useful insights I've learned have been through those smaller gatherings where there is no agenda, no structure. I think of it as a support group for startup founders constructed on an ad-hoc basis.

I have been thinking quite a bit about this since I read pg's words. I (currently) live in Denmark and I have always felt that I had pretty good conditions for doing a startup even though I don't have access to the networking that takes place in the valley. There is so much info online anyway, and since I prefer bootstrapping, I am not that interested in meeting with angels etc. However, if the material that is available online really is that filtered, maybe I am being deluded?

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