The Value Of Brutal Honesty

Two young boys and businessmen dressed in suits and glasses sit at a desk with a homemade lie detector machine. This serious interview is conducted in an office and the machine is predicting a lie from the job candidate. Dishonesty will eventually catch up to you.

In the Frequently Asked Questions section of Adweek magazine’s website, the top question is “Why do I have to register to read Adweek.com content?” The answer is a total crock: “Adweek is committed to providing the best possible experience for our audience. By registering to become an Adweek Community member, you’re helping us understand more about how you use Adweek and the type of content you’re interested in so that we can continue to create best-in-class content and products that serve your needs.”

Since they’re a publication dedicated to marketing and advertising, you would think they could at least cobble together a better lie. Personally, I’d prefer brutal honesty: “We make you subscribe so we can build our list to sell advertising to our sponsors. We are, after all, an advertising platform and keep the lights on by selling advertising to our list.”

As a marketing person, that answer would not offend me in the least. It’s honest. The other pile of crap they’re trying to sell is a complete insult to the reader because we all know it’s a lie. As the saying goes, the cover-up is worse than the crime, and that goes DOUBLE when you’re the one trying to cover up your own b.s.

Twice I’ve been invited to watch the filming of the wildly popular TV show “Shark Tank,” and both times, I’ve had the opportunity to see multiple pitches start to finish, then hang out and discuss the pitches with the Sharks in between stage resets and over lunch. Kevin O’Leary, the subject of this month’s cover article, is someone I’ve gotten to know well from having him speak on my stage twice and bringing him in for a day of private consulting about a year ago. I think he’s wrongly accused of being a mean-spirited arsehole. Yes, he plays the “tough” Shark to make the show interesting (just like Robert plays the “nice” Shark, Barbara plays the “crazy” Shark, etc.). But Kevin is simply a smart straight shooter who doesn’t sugarcoat the truth. I agree with him that brutal honesty is the absolute best advice some of the wannabe entrepreneurs on the show can get. Often, the entrepreneurs who make it to the show have already burned through their entire savings, borrowed extensively from friends and family, quit their job, and are close to bankruptcy or rapidly headed in that direction. If they aren’t bluntly told that their business sucks and that they don’t have what it takes to make it work, they could spend a few more miserable years digging themselves deeper into a black pit of debt and dragging their family down with them. Years of loss pile up in time wasted and money not invested properly.  

Unlike me, Kevin is not in the business of “fixing” entrepreneurs by teaching them how to be better marketers, salespeople, and leaders. He doesn’t have the desire to “coach.” In his world — which is the world of business — either you make money or you don’t. If his brutal honesty stings, then it just might spark the fire to burn off the deadwood b.s. they’re clinging to, motivating them to abandon their failure of a business for something more profitable or at least stop wasting time and money on a bad idea.

The marketplace is brutally binary. Either you make money or you don’t. You either have a competitive product or service that sells or you don’t. Either you grew this year and made a respectable profit or you didn’t. The marketplace doesn’t care that you’ve put your life into your business or that it’s always been your dream to run an IT company. The marketplace doesn’t care that it’s difficult to find “good” people or that you’re working really, really hard. The marketplace won’t pay you extra for being a “nice” person or because you’re handicapped, unfairly burdened, or struggling in some way. The marketplace also doesn’t care if you’re black, white, old, young, pretty, ugly, gay, or straight. The marketplace is just, and the measurements of actual success and accomplishment are straightforward. Not many people like this, and some have tried to make business “more fair” to no avail. 

As we moved into this new year, you might have set goals for 2020 or made personal resolutions. Maybe you’ve created a new mission statement for yourself and your company and hung it around the office. Perhaps you’ve gone so far as to take everyone on a personal retreat to plot and plan. Good for you, I suppose. But sentiment aside, it’s definitely NOT the thought that counts. If you’re not where you want to be, not making the money you want, not seeing your business progress as it should, or simply not at peace with how hard you have to work for the results, perhaps it’s time you took a ruthless look at yourself and your business to determine exactly what is working and what is not. Be brutally honest with yourself and make the hard decisions you’ve been avoiding. 

The big “secret” in life is that there are no secrets. Whatever your goal is, you can get there — as long as you’re willing to be brutally honest with yourself about the hard work, preparation, and learning you must invest to get it done.