December 2005

A Relationship Story
Honesty and Success – Poll Results

Thanks friends for taking time to offer your thoughts. I received 100+ responses, and I definitely consider that a representative sample of our community and a real reflection of our version of “Conventional Wisdom”. As a reminder, the question was:
On a 0% – 100% scale, from dishonest (0%) to honest (100%), what is the average % for successful people? (If you missed the November story that posed the question, just email me and I’ll send it).
Now I knew this had the potential to be a trick question, and a lot of people commented on the lack of clarity. But that’s really part of the learning process here, as you’ll see. I did not know what nugget of wisdom was going to come from this exercise when I asked the question, but I just knew it would be very interesting, and sure enough it was.
The first reassuring result was that 92% of the answers were above 50%, and 70% were at 75% or above. So we know that the vast majority have a positive view of the correlation between honesty and success. Whew, our hopes for society are not lost! But then it got interesting.
After reviewing the results and the comments, I discovered the “trick” in the question, and that is what I found most intriguing. “Success” had not been defined, so it was left up to everyone’s interpretation, thus giving us a glimpse into the prevailing Conventional Wisdom about people’s perception of success. Some mentioned that their answer would differ based on the definition of success, for instance, the number would be lower if only considering financial success. This is not a surprise to anyone, I’m sure.
However, what I found most compelling was that 10% of the respondents unequivocally answered 100% to the question. Their definition of success required that a person must be honest. Any level of dishonesty was a disqualifier. Now forgive me if you think I was being tricky, but I didn’t plan this or know what would come from it (I’m clearly not that smart). I did, however, find that this single aspect of the data taught me more than anything else.
It means is that our Conventional Wisdom, at a 90% rate, accepts some level of dishonesty in the definition of success. In our Machiavellian world, I expect that is also not too much of a surprise, and in fact I’m afraid my own answer was similarly affected by convention. However, the message that I take away is that there is a higher standard that can be applied when viewing others (and ourselves), and it differs from the Conventional Wisdom of our times. I ask you, what’s wrong with us joining the 10% who just don’t accept dishonesty?
I hope you’ll all accept these thoughts as my gift for the holiday season. I hope it can become part of your New Year’s resolutions, as I plan for it to be part of my own.
In the words of Epictetus, the ancient stoic philosopher who is the ultimate anti-Machiavellian: “The only prosperous life is the virtuous life”. Words to live by. I welcome your thoughts and comments. Thanks!
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year to all.

Book Recommendation: The Art of Living by Epictetus


Jeff Black
Principal Consultant
McDermott & Bull Executive Search