Friday, August 31, 2012

Telling the truth is the best long-term strategy in Silicon Valley

A quick follow-up to my post on trust from earlier this morning.

Nick O'Neill wrote a post this morning with the provocative title, "Silicon Valley Is Filled With Liars"

I don't mind the provocative title one bit--after all, that's a technique I use all the time. In the post, O'Neill calls out the common lies we all see--vanity metrics to make a company look good, listing off "committed" investors, relentlessly spinning everything.

He's right. These are all too common, and as a result, we've learned to disbelieve all of them. Thus, when someone actually tells the truth, we tend to discount his or her statements by the same "truthiness discount" we apply to everyone else.

This was something a VC friend pointed out to me about five years ago. "Chris, aren't you putting yourself at a disadvantage by not making outlandish claims and hyping everything?"

My response was simple: I'm playing a long-term gain. I'm going to tell the truth--consistently, and over a long period of time. And as a result, the people who deal with me will actually believe what I say.

Here's a question--would you rather have the trust of the people who actually know you, or the admiration of those who don't?

The latter feels good in the short term, like an addictive drug, but leads to an inevitable crash. Rationally, you'd have to try to hold people at arm's-length, because if they got to know you better, your relationship would degrade.

Strong, close, trust-based relationships are incredibly valuable. A single such relationship ought to outweight hundreds or even thousands of superficial ones based solely on truthiness.

Indeed, if everyone else is lying, truth-telling becomes a powerful contrarian strategy.

In the land of the liars, the truth-teller is king.


Alex Gourley said...

While I take the same strategy, and admire that you do too... I know liars that get ahead. They are not universally liked, but they are liked by enough people to get the resources they need to then compound their careers.

Matt Henderson said...

Hi Chris,

Being honest has always been my approach as well, and I am certain that has played a central role in any success I've had so far. In the long run, it's clear that people really appreciate those who they meet along the way, that they know they can trust.

And the interesting thing about trust is that it can take a lifetime to build, but can be lost in an instant.

Chris said...


Sadly, many liars do well for themselves. A significant number aren't even punished for their sins (there's a reason we find the concept of an afterlife so compelling--it's the only way to bring these scalawags to justice).

But, it seems pretty clear that lying isn't the only strategy that works. That's enough for me.


You're right to point out the asymmetry of honesty--as soon as you act in a way that casts doubt on one of your statements, you cast a shadow over everything you've ever said.

All the more reason to be rigorous about telling the truth.