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Thirty years ago, Fleischmann and Pons announced that they were able to create fusion at room temperature. Scientists around the world began work in this new field, only to discover that they couldn’t replicate the reported results. It turns out that the original researchers hadn’t told the truth. Millions of dollars and countless hours were wasted.

Science is based on honestly and accurately reporting what happened. Not reporting an opinion or a point of view as much as actual events and theories that fit those events.

But the same thing is true of the results you got from the direct marketing test you did yesterday.

And the efficacy of a new cancer vaccine or economic policy.

We need people to report what’s actually true, so we can work with it.

The same thinking applies to whether or not your product made money last month and what temperature it was in Cleveland on Tuesday.

On the other hand, we don’t expect the truth in a poker game, in the negotiation of the price of a new car or even in the stump speech of a political candidate. We signed up for shadings and hyperbole and some gamesmanship. 

The key concept here, as usual, is enrollment. If the scientific community is enrolled with you in hearing the factual results of replicable experiments, then it’s on you to engage with that honestly. If your co-workers are enrolled to hear the truth about the culture of your organization or the results of a new initiative, the entire system depends on you keeping up your end of the bargain.

Living without accurate reporting of results, when it’s what we expect, goes far beyond the ethical problem with lying. Like the toxic loans that led to the financial crisis of 2008, when lies are mixed in with the expectation for truth, the system grinds to a halt. We have to spend time filtering instead of actually getting our work done.

It’s an incredible privilege to have a role where you are expected to tell the truth. Your colleagues are trusting you, letting down their guard and enabling you to contribute highly-leveraged work. 

It doesn’t take much to break that trust and to degrade the efficiency of the entire system.

Let’s agree, in advance, about what we’re going to hear from you. 

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To tell the truth