Saturday, August 20, 2005

This Sentence Is False

This Sentence Is False

This week's New Yorker presents a lengthy discussion of bullshit.

The gist of the article, conveyed with ample quotations from books and various moral philosophers, is that the concept of an objective truth is under siege, not the least from a proliferation of bullshit, which is described as follows:

"The essence of bullshit, Frankfurt decides, is that it is produced without any concern for the truth."

I have been accused, from time to time, of being a practitioner of the fine art of BS. I can recall on one occasion one of my co-workers saying during the course of a debate, "Don't let him talk. Once he starts spinning things, it will all sound so reasonable that we'll have no choice but to agree with him."

I prefer to think of my approach as seeking a "higher truth." In his book, All Marketers Are Liars, Seth Godin argues that the essence of marketing is telling compelling stories that ring true and are supported by your product or service--even if they aren't the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

I'm reminded of the DeWalt story, which I studied in business school. The Black & Decker company couldn't break into the professional power tools market because their potential customers saw them as a manufacturer of consumer products, not serious professional tools.

Even though Black & Deckers tools were better than their competitors, they didn't have a compelling story that their customers could believe in. So they created one. They built a new line of tools under the DeWalt brand name. DeWalt, which Black & Decker owned lock stock and barrel, had a good reputation as a maker of woodworking tools for professionals.

The same exact tools, under the DeWalt brand name, and using a tough-looking yellow and black color scheme, soon became the runaway market leaders.

Today, if you go to the DeWalt Web site, you can read about the company history, about the DeWalt family, and about all the product innovations. What you won't find anywhere is the fact that DeWalt is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Black & Decker.

Bullshit? You be the judge.

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