The American public has been fed so much PR spin that it can become hard to know reality, to have good benchmarks, to have a solid understanding of what constitutes a true norm. Few corporations are willing to admit mistakes; any mistake and even fewer CEOs will own up to ever having made an error or miscalculation of any kind. For this they hire expensive consultants and create large public relations departments, all of which are a drag on earnings, dividends, and your 401(k) plan. In other words, there is very little true value creation involved, mainly just job retention effort for top management at the shareholders’ expense.
So, given all this, when a CEO actually confesses to a blunder or two, heck, three or four——well, we are in shock and don’t quite frankly know what to think or how to put it into perspective.
Case in point is the recent book “Facebook Effect,” by David Kirkpatrick, chronicling the story of, well, Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, its founder. A reviewer in the Wall Street Journal (June 8, 2010) remarked that the author was fortunate since it appeared Zuckerberg was “generous with his time” and “honest about his mistakes.” The reviewer felt compelled to continue, “some anecdotes make you wonder how Mr. Zuckerberg still has a job.”
Wait! Zuckerberg has created an unprecedented cultural phenomenon, has a net worth easily over a billion dollars, his company continues to grow by leaps and bounds, and a reviewer in the nation’s major business newspaper wonders why he still has a job? Because he took a wrong turn here and there? Blew off steam now and then?
We are so used to seeing polished productions, staged and well rehearsed, scripted to the nth degree, that when someone pulls back the curtain and shows us the messy workings going on behind, well, we find it hard to comprehend. Truth is, most of the time, people behind the curtain are a lot like us, just pedaling as hard as they can, trying to make it all come out right.
All of us will be better off when we insist that we are given the unvarnished truth, unpolished facts, full transparency, including making “the rest of the story” part of every story.