Raf asked me about "untrue stories"

“How true does a story have to be?”

Raf – a good buddy who stretches my brain – asked me to visit  http://significantobjects.com/ where people make up stories and compete to see how much value they can add.

pinocchio I puff up with pride and can barely muffle my “told you so!” when well told stories take a meaningless object and give it enough meaning to register in dollars and cents! Whoo hooo!! The project raised money for writing programs, until is was shut down.  I suspect the project was suspended because technically they were committing fraud. Oops, no harm meant.  Adding a sentence: “even if they knew it wasn’t true” can’t fix the fact that eBay tests do not show any substantive disclaimer like, “This story is false.”

My philosophy is being tested here:

“People don’t want your information, they want faith..that you know what you are talking about, that this is a good product, they will be happy they listened to you…”

Faith that you are telling the truth, in other words. I want to focus on this point, not because I’m all uppity about the ethics, but because this is a critical crossroad where your choices make you a good storyteller or a brilliant storyteller.

I deeply believe all stories should be literally true, or transparently metaphorical or fiction – movies, folk tales, etc.

Untrue stories (particularly those that could have happened) are still untrue.  Lying to your customers is bad business. And, I use this inflammatory word not to insult anybody, but to grab your attention.

Two reasons I recommend you keep working until you can tell it a true story.

1.If you have to invent a story, you aren’t doing your homework.

Either, you haven’t been talking to your customers, or you haven’t tested your product yourself in real situations…whatever it is. Needing to invent a story – to take that kind of short cut – reveals a much bigger problem in that you don’t know a true story that is worth telling.   If the product is actually good, and you know your audience, then why do you need to make something up?  I think it is a warning sign.

2. Customers generalize.

If I discover you told me one untruth, I will doubt everything.  In today’s market trust is incredibly expensive to create and maintain.  The ROI of untrue stories can’t be high enough to compensate for the risk of losing trust.  Maybe it is a small risk, but Toyota having a jammed gas-pedal was also a tiny probability.

In the case of the eBay items, the fictional backstory seems harmless enough, unless it encourages anyone to tell untrue stories for any reason other than entertainment.

At least, this has been my personal experience:

One time, in New Orleans I began a keynote at a great hotel by saying, “I love this place, and I am extra happy to be here today.” I followed with a story (big surprise) about how the last time I was in that hotel I was a child, it was Easter and I was with my mother and father who had decided to take a trip to New Orleans.   I remembered that trip so vividly because in the lobby downstairs were bunnies!

Bunnies not just for show, but bunnies I could hold and pet.  I was in heaven.  There was a circle of colored corrugated cardboard and I could reach in and just pick one up. As an adult, I’m sure there was also a hotel staff member who managed that process. But I don’t remember that, I just remember burying my face in the neck of a warm soft bunny.

Later, at the client’s evening event I felt a vise-like grip pinch my elbow, I turned and a woman tugged my arm down so she could reach my ear.

“Was that true?”

“Was what true?”

Whatever it was, her tone indicated she believed it was not true. After asking a few questions I realized she figured the bunny story was adapted to lots of hotels. to unfairly suck the participants into liking me.

I didn’t blame her.  I hate it when people make up stories.  I feel demeaned and betrayed if I find out I smiled or cried or felt a strong connection – when the story wasn’t even true.

Conversation on Twitter at #TRUorNOT

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