The Truth

Will set you free

THIS expression has been a popular saying among business gurus like the late Jim Rohn, and has its origins in scripture.

“The truth will set you free” has a nice ring to it and makes people feel good, but what does it really mean?

Here are three practices that follow directly from the pursuit of truth, and which underpin sustainable business.

1. Accepting things for what they are. A core requirement of good strategic thinking is the ability to accept the world as it is. Business failures inevitably result when executives cling to the past, holding on to an existing business model which may remain profitable (for a time) but which no longer solves the problem it set out to solve in the most valuable or cost effective way.

A contemporary example is Eastman Kodak, which pioneered the core technology used in today’s digital cameras in 1975, but failed to accept the new reality and ultimately filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2012.

2. Acting with integrity. In a world where most Economists and corporate executives believe (or have managed to convince themselves) that the purpose of business is to maximize profits, where do you draw a line in the sand? When is it possible to say enough is enough?

Acting with integrity means saying “no” to initiatives that produce short term profits in a way that causes lasting harm to employees, customers or members of the community.

Standing up for the truth is a sound and sustainable business practice and a contemporary example of where this didn’t happen is Enron.

Prior to its collapse Enron was one of the world’s largest energy companies but the pursuit of short term profits led executives Kenneth Lay, Jeff Skilling and others to embrace mark to market accounting, a dubious practice whereby anticipated future profits were booked on the day the deals were signed rather than when profits were actually earned.

These deceptions eventually led the company into bankruptcy and many of its executives were sued on criminal charges or committed suicide.

3. Seeing something, and saying something. Companies that fail to improve will ultimately fail to survive, and the first step in the improvement process is when employees see areas for improvement and speak out. If people are unwilling or unable to do this, then the performance of a company will suffer.

A contemporary example of where lack of communication crippled business performance was the terrible safety record of Korea Air from the 1970s to the late 1990s.

A cultural issue made it difficult for Korean co-pilots to tell the pilot about their mistakes and the resulting break down in communication led to the write off of 16 airplanes and the loss of over 700 human lives.

The truth will set you free is not just a pithy aphorism. The truth is a liberating force which can clear the way for continued growth and prosperity. A solid foundation on which to build sustainable business.