Friday, May 31, 2019

Project Bulls**t

Many fine books have been written about 'bull' and its excrement, 'bulls**t' (*). Indeed, such may go back to at least the 17th century, if not before, as written into plays and documents of the era.

And so, is it any surprise that, four centuries on, many in the PM profession pride themselves as good bulls**t detectors, having the cultural training to recognize such that comes from a lifetime of exposure and experience?

Indeed, no less an eminence than Harry Frankfurt, a distinguished moral philosopher and professor emeritus at Princeton has been quoted (**):
"One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit"

Lies vs bulls**t
But here's the important matter: project success depends on trustful and trusting relationships -- no news there -- and trust, in turn, depends on a track record of truthfulness. Amen to that, to be sure.

Can the bulls**ters be trusted? Are they truthful?
And, in the same vein, what of the liar?
Distinctions without a difference?

Not the same! Not so fast!
If we can pretty well detect bulls**t, and see through to the truth, is there any real harm done?
What about lies?

Frankfurt goes on (paraphrasing):
The essence of bulls**t is that it is produced without concern for the truth. Indeed, it need not be false, even though the perpetrator is faking knowledge (a stopped clock is right at least twice a day). That is, the bulls**ter is indifferent to the truth .... could be right; could be wrong; doesn't care.

The liar, on the other hand, has a very good handle on the truth which he/she purposely tries to hide or obfuscate. Indeed, the liar is quite sensitive to the truth, not indifferent, and wants to lead us away from it.

Caring or not caring
The liar cares deeply about the truth; the bulls**ter doesn't. At the end of the day, who is the greater threat? Frankfurt would have you believe it's the bulls**ter; I'm not so sure.

The bulls**ter, once identified, can be written off to exaggeration, but not willful deceit.
The liar is willfully deceitful.

In my PMO, if I have the insight to choose, I'm going to take the bulls**ter. My idea is that perhaps there is useful person to be rescued, untainted by a willful disregard for truth.
(*) "On bullshit" by Frankfurt (2005); "On Lying" by St Augustine;  "Your call is important to us; The truth about bullshit" by Penny
(**) Essay: "Say Anything" in the book "When Einstein walked with Goedel" by Holt

Buy them at any online book retailer!