Disclosure: Spinning your own reality is dangerous. Many a career, dictator, cult and government have spun their way to destruction. Spin at your own risk!
Ah spin. That unique ability to take lemons, razor blades and turpentine and create a tasty, frosty beverage. The true spin masters can create whole worlds where physical laws break, cults are mainstream and profit “is so 1990.” Some spin is good, even healthy, when you hit the roadblocks, changing market dynamics or bad news. Sometimes your team needs a positive spin to solider on. Spin becomes dangerous when it’s so discounted from reality that it leads management to make disastrous decisions.
What is Spin?
Before we get started, lets define spin. Spin is taking reality and bending it to your point of view. The key word here is bending, not breaking, what can be perceived as a different meaning for events or data. Some examples include:
- The economy is in a deep recession but foreclosure agent openings are at an all time high. Come be part of an exciting, growth opportunity.
- Gas is at $4.50 a gallon which means there are great deals on SUV’s.
- Car bombings are down 50% from a month ago. Things are improving.
- Today, the economy grew by 1.1% over a year ago. Clearly a strong sign that the recession is over and we have nothing to worry about.
Each of these spin statements is true but overall, the spinner is weaving a tangled web in a veiled attempt to catch some unsuspecting reader. Informed readers will see through this and might even appreciate the upbeat tone. So, in moderation, spin is fine. Spin too much and reality bends to the point where it becomes a false reality.
When Does Spin, Spin Out of Control
Probably the best example of spin gone wrong is the whole “the emperor has no clothes” story. Clearly, the emperor had the spin down where he created his own reality that his subjects followed without question. This is the danger zone of spin. Companies that get into this mode will fail in a great explosion that leaves a 30 foot crater. Again, some spin is good. I am not knocking having an up beat attitude or trying to gleam some good out of a bad situtation. That’s not my point here. What we need to avoid is the delusional emperor (or CEO) that believes his own reality because hope springs eternal, we can win it in the 9th inning, 2 minute warning is enough to score 14 points, it’s a long shot but we can do it, etc.
Signs of Reality Slipping Away
Okay, lets dig in a bit to see when your companies spin machine needs transports you to a warped reality. The road to spin as reality takes many turns. It needs a dynamic leader that is afraid to loose, willing followers that want to believe and enough money/sales to safely ignore reality. When mixed just right, you get a spun reality. Some of the signs that reality might be spinning out of control include:
- Dissent is Discouraged by Ignoring it: Any discussions about things going wrong are ignored. Reality is spun to only discuss the good news and never anything bad.
- Yes Men/Women are Promoted: People who reinforce the warped reality get prompted while dissenters get passed over. This method eventually surrounds the leader with only people who will always agree with him.
- Every Quarter End is a Fire Drill: Goals for the quarter, mostly sales, always require heroics to pull off. This is because of the hope that the big deal will come any day now. In reality, the big deal is usually at a huge discount.
- Once Inclusive Meetings are Exclusive: All senior management meetings are closed to outsiders. The results are always positive and upbeat even though everyone knows the ship is sinking. This is done to insulate the leadership from reality.
- No One Asks Questions at Company Meetings: Once lively company meetings, where struggles were discussed are now cricket concerts. Senior management does all of the talking and no one even bothers to ask questions anymore.
- Good People Start to Leave in Droves: When good people leave on their own, that usually means they disagree with managements approach. When they leave in droves, that is a sure sign of Armageddon. Intelligent people usually know what the real story is and never want to be caught on a sinking ship.
- Dissenters are Fired: When the emperor starts to execute once loyal subjects for dissent, you just know that the end is near. Dissent is good and healthy. Once it stops, the spin has officially become reality.
- Status Updates are Spun with Only Good News: All companies have problems. It’s part of corporate life. If all you hear is good news when you know zombies are knocking on the door, then the transition from reality to fantasy is complete.
These are only a few of the many signs that spin is turning into reality. Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done to reverse a spun reality once it becomes entrenched other than to fire management. You have to make a decision if the spun reality is a reality you want to be a part of.
A recent study from the University Of Buffalo that demonstrates how we support our false beliefs. We want to believe spin to reinforce our world view, even when the data says that view completely wrong.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.
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