The Lying Game

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Distrust in a world of trust agents is problematic.

On May 18th, The New York Times ran a fascinating news story titled, In the Undoing of a C.E.O., a Puzzle. The article is all about former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson and the recent unraveling of his short tenure as head of the beleaguered digital media company. At one point in the debacle (which started because Thompson falsified his resume by claiming to have had a computer science degree), this happened: "The board’s initial hopes that it was all an easily explained mistake were quickly dashed. Instead of offering Mr. Bostock an explanation, Mr. Thompson fumed at Mr. Loeb and his tactics. Mr. Bostock stressed that the only way to deal with the situation was to ‘immediately tell the absolute and total truth, whatever it is’ and make it public, according to a person with knowledge of the conversation. Unspoken but implicit was the understanding that if he’d ever misstated his credentials, Mr. Thompson should publicly admit it, apologize and offer to resign. In that case, the board would have assessed the situation, but might well have stood behind him. Mr. Thompson seemed to get the message, but said nothing more to clear up the matter."

The absolute and total truth.

I was once speaking to a headhunter who told me that they estimated that lying (or severe embellishments) happens in about seventy percent of resumes. Imagine that. Seven out of ten resumes that you look at include either outright lies or severe embellishments ("most likely both," laughed the headhunter). I’ve seen it happen on countless occasions here at Twist Image too. It’s especially prevalent when people leave the organization. It always makes me laugh that the reasons someone left are usually highlighted, exaggerated or claimed as their own personal accomplishments on their LinkedIn profile. Hard to believe isn’t it? Once they leave, all of the work that they accomplished with a full team is claimed as a personal victory and spun (regardless or real world results).

The need to look good.

What would you rather buy: something that looks pristine but once you purchase it, it fails to deliver or something that looks the way that it does (no lipstick on the pig) but it does what it says it does? Pushing that further… imagine buying something that looks the way that it does, but it completely over-delivers on what it says it can do. What would be the ultimate customer experience? I’m guessing you’re with me in thinking that the last two examples are, obviously, the recommended marketing strategy. If we want to work for companies that can deliver a solid product that surprises and delights consumers, why do we all lie so much and oversell ourselves on resumes and on LinkedIn profiles so desperately?

No lying.

I tell the truth because it’s the easiest thing to remember. I’m not perfect (white lies get us by, sometimes), but when it comes to the big stuff, I often ask myself this one simple question: "at what cost?" Is life merely about how much money can be extracted from another person or how others perceive me? My personal philosophy is this: I would rather have less money but be a person of ethics and morals. I would rather have people find me not all that interesting instead of having to lie just to become the circle of attention.

Laugh all that you want.

I don’t have a university degree. I simply wasn’t good at school or motivated to attend. That being said, I never let my lack of degrees get in the way of my education. I read a book a week, consume as much information as possible (I’m an infovore), attend conferences and events and spend the bulk of my time learning, reading, writing, growing and critical thinking. If a company doesn’t hire me because I don’t have a university degree, it’s their loss. If the only way that I can get a company to look at my resume is to lie, then what does that say about the integrity of the company, myself and the entire human resources process?

It’s simple…

Don’t lie. Don’t over-embellish. If you feel like you’re drowning, ask for help before spiraling down into a world of lies. I promise you, it’s not worth it. Don’t believe me? Ask Scott Thompson. 


  1. How do suggest listing larger macro level accomplishments for a product or service? If a product manager for product X lists on their profile that product X contributed $1M in annual revenue, I would make the connection they did that as part of a team. I agree that’s a team achievement, but they need some way to express value of product X in scale, transactions, and dollars.
    In most organizations today most any accomplishment comes from a team of people. The professional profile is a way to show the areas of contribution.

  2. I don’t have a degree, either.
    I was too busy earning all the experience they said I needed when I’d interview, and so I’d go to an interview, show off my experience, and they’d complain that I didn’t have a degree. I felt bad about this until about the age of 34 or so. Then I just kept quite about it.
    Somehow, right after the first PodCamp, I started to believe that I wouldn’t need a degree. Sure, there’s some parts of formal learning that would be useful, but I don’t NEED it.
    Loved the post, sir.

  3. Hi Mitch
    In reference to your post from yesterday, we (my company) have worked hard at figuring out what we really love, what we are really good at. We talked to people who buy our products and realized that they were all people who needed authentic gifts from Canada. So, in order to grow, we tried to come up with more products that would qualify as a gift from Canada. Turns out that is harder to do than you might think, so we ended up trying a few items which we could market as gifts from Canada, but which were really not authentic. (Some Canadian teas are an example. How much tea is grown in Canada, I ask you?) Every which way we turned we ran into problems. I found that we could not say that we are mostly authentic. I found that we are better to be smaller (we are still searching for more ideas) and honest than larger and kinda-sorta Canadian. Sometimes I wonder whether if I had a degree all this would be easier. : )

  4. “I tell the truth because it’s the easiest thing to remember”. Ditto that. There was a great cartoon once where a young child liked to his mom, saying he was at a school practice, when he was really at a movie. He returns home with the ticket stub, buries it in the backyard saying, “Telling a lie is way too much hard work.”
    I used to tell my own sons: “always tell me the truth, because I WILL find out. No matter where I am in the world, someone knows someone who knows mommy.” It worked:) Cheers! Kaarina

  5. It starts at the top ..everyone knows the politicians are dishonest, do U really believe the unemployment and inflation numbers? But would U vote for someone that told U the ugly truth ?
    The Peter principle rules, incompetent people who are good liars rise to the top leaving foot prints up the back of more capable people. This leads to a “neck down ” I am just doing what I was told attitude.. We will get paid to do it wrong (as we were told to do it) then paid to fix it ( wish they would have listened to us the first time) … frustrating but because we can pass the buck we just smile and pat our wallets.
    Integrity is a character trait that seems to be lacking today. The do anything, say anything to get ahead or make a buck attitude. When management has that attitude it sets the tone for the whole company. That can lead to a every man for himself, pencil whip the numbers, take the credit and pass the blame cut throat workplace. Not good and it’s frustrating to work somewhere like that but if you keep your personal integrity and do your job right you can be the small candle lighting the dark.. Be a example for the apprentices , Do your job right, and you won’t have to slink out looking over your shoulder hoping things don’t fall apart before you make it out the door.

  6. I would rather have less money but be a person of ethics and morals too. This is why I got out of investment banking back in 2008. I became disgusted with all the spin and half truths. I’ve forgiven that now because we’re all human, but I’m glad I’m not around it anymore. Sadly, the grass isn’t exactly greener in many other companies. I’m on my own now so at least I can control what I do in that arena. Mitch, thanks for your consistent, insightful posts. I recently started reading you and listening to your podcasts and am really enjoying it.

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