I once worked on a project where the program and project managers would compulsively lie to the client. Since then I have had to work with other people who deliberately mislead their clients. I find it disturbing. While I can’t say I am without sin in this department. I don’t believe I have ever deliberately mislead a client for my own gain. There’s spin and then there’s SPIN!
At one firm I know the catch phrase for SPIN is don’t confuse marketing with implementation.
Senge refers to the concept of creative tension which is the gap between the current reality state and the a proposed future state. The distance between the two is proportional to the level of creative tension a person can stand. Some people have a huge tollerance for the gap. Others can bear very little.
I think it was F.Scott Fitzgerald who said, "The mark of true genius is two maintain to opposing ideas in your mind at one time and remain sane."
I guess where I take exception to this concept is where one of the opposing ideas (the proposed future state) is not within the realm of reality. Ideas that are completely outside of the scope of anything that is currently achievable. Like producing a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant. — not possible — and you know anyone who proposes it as possible is lying.
In the one baby in one month example – we all know it’s not possible. But when someone is proposing they can create the next generation of computer system in a short period of time for minimal dollars we can’t always say it is outside the realm of possibilities, even if we have our doubts. The doubters among us usually take one of two positions. Dig your heals in and resist the change, risking being labeled as "not a team player". Or playing along until it becomes obvious that the proposal was doomed to fail from the start, risking the label "nay-sayer".
As always hinds sight is 20/20 in these things and when the client finds out they were mislead (lied to) they will be understandably upset. At the same time a little due-dilligence and the beginning of the process can avoid embarrassment at the end.
Perhaps the concept of taking small gradual steps into the unkown rather than giant leaps is sound advice. We need to identify all of the unknowns as risks and avoid blindly hoping things will work out in the end if we just trust the "visionary experts" who have a high tolerance for creative tension.
While this is a sweeping statement: I find people with a high tolerance for creative tension will also lie to cover up some of the large gaps that exist between reality and vision. And their ability to lie and mislead increases and the stakes rise and deadlines loom.
Jiminny-Crickets! "A lie grows and grows until its as plain as the nose on your face." said the Fairy God-mother to Pinnochio (the Disney version)
I often say the way to avoid unethical behavior is to think about the long term. The lie may work in the short term but when you lose the trust of someone, you will take a long time to regain it. Trust is such a key ingredient in a business relationship that people should understand the effect of the lie.
Rushing to the defence of creative tension and Senge, I really believe that having a vision and coping with reality does not mean a denial of the truth. I expect those people who lie cannot cope with the tension and construct a reality in their minds where they are not lying. It can be a source of major psychological problems. They say that neurotics create castles in the sky and psychotics live in them. Ability to sustain creative tension between the dream and reality is healthy, denying reality is not.