Everything is Not True; Unless it’s True

April 7, 2013

Early in my career, I decided to ensure that I was someone who can get things done.  I quickly uncovered some sad reality in this quest, and learned that there are personnel in organizations that do not actually think, just react and become road blockers. Too many employees just accept these roadblocks at face value. Even companies with great culture have these pockets.

Therefore, I like to tell new (and long term) employees in any organization to operate with this mantra:  “Everything anyone tells you is not true, unless it is true.” This may read as too obvious and overly cynical, but the trick for good leaders and effective employees is learning what is really true.

Too many employees are easily buffaloed by the reasons or excuses that bureaucratic staffers, buyers, engineers or salesmen provide for why something can’t be done.  Good employees and effective personnel ask the “Why?” question and they do it multiple times. They peel the onion, and figure out what is a valid reason (e.g. a true legal compliance issue, a law of physics, or a clear written management directive versus “it is the way we have always done it” or other hogwash, smokescreen, or CYA responses).

It should be noted that this not true approach can drive control and establishment types crazy but it will result in getting things done more efficiently, effective teams without passive agendas, and ultimately harnessing value and greater profit from reduced waste.

I was tutored that “there is more than one way to skin a cat” and asking questions is the best way to figure out other ways.  Reflecting and thinking is often a lost art with many employees. Most folks are very intelligent, but they need a jump-start to remember how.

The “Why?” question is not meant to be a personal attack, and this is not always easy without the receiver going on the hard core defensive or ejecting. I have asked “Why?” thousands of times in my career and done it both right and wrong. However, with a little contextual explanation and some gentleness, you can ensure that value is created and the truth is a real truth. It gets easier with time.

Therefore, assume it false first and don’t be afraid to ask “Why?” You and your team will be better for it.


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