For starters, Veritas (Truth) is Harvard’s motto. This motto was challenged in a most provocative way by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn during his commencement speech at Harvard in 1978, and it was recounted in a talk by prominent contemporary philosopher Dr. Peter Kreeft who was present for that speech. Kreeft touts it as “one of the greatest speeches in the history of civilization.” If you are interested, here is Dr. Kreeft’s recounting: Kreeft on Solzhenitsyn.
Why raise the question of truth today? For starters, this is a question that has echoed up and down the ages and still reverberates loudly through our culture today. The idea of bowing to an objective truth is foreign to our culture. We all have our own belief systems, attitudes and world views that shape the truths of our lives. Does this sound familiar? “Don’t tell me your truth is true if it differs from mine.” As if truth is subjective, which I don’t believe it is.
I am not writing to provide an answer to the question “What is truth?”. Solzhenitsyn does that better than I ever could, but I will explore the profound value (and rarity) of finding veritas (truth) in the corporate world. I have been an executive recruiter for over 20 years and have heard thousands of stories. For well over a decade I struggled to understand what made such a small percentage of the stories far more attractive than others. About 2-3% stood clearly above the rest. Why?, I wondered. And why so few? Were the stories of the 2-3% filled with a particular type of drama and/or theater? No, that was not it. So, what was it? You may have already guessed the answer – truth! To put it into a term that is less divisive, maybe because it seems softer around the edges, I will use the term authentic. Truth certainly has its hard edges.
Therefore, the formula I observed goes like this; a human story in the professional world is great to the extent that it is authentic, not dramatic or theatrical, but authentic. Put in the negative, the story is great to the degree it lacks “spin” or manipulation. If you observe the media or politics or just about anything else in our society, you observe a significant amount of spin and manipulation – it is very hard to find truth. And it is a major turnoff. Unfortunately, we have been expertly trained through a lifetime of observation to spin things in our favor. What other culture seems to relish the slogan, “Don’t let the truth stand in the way of a good story”?
When I discover a candidate spinning a story about their career, I immediately move on, and so do all non-desperate hiring managers. When I hear a representative of a company propagating a spun story about their organization, I am immediately turned off, and so are all the best candidates. What’s the moral of this story? People and organizations that are authentic stand clearly above the rest. These are the 2-3%, while people and organizations that are not authentic, don’t; it is that simple.
“Many of you have already found out, and others will find out in the course of their lives, that truth eludes us if we do not concentrate our attention totally on its pursuit.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn