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How Good Is Your Information?

The Toronto Star's Sharon Burnside has an interesting column about a quote widely, but falsely, attributed to Albert Einstein. In the remark, Einstein supposedly laments over lacking the mental fortitude to land his ideal job: "As a young man, my fondest dream was to become a geographer. However, while working in the Customs Office, I thought deeply about the matter and concluded that it was far too difficult a subject. With some reluctance, I then turned to physics as an alternative."

Thanks to Professor Jerry Dobson of the University of Kansas, we now know that the quote is pure fabrication. As it turns out, Duane Marble, a geography professor at New York State University, drafted and displayed the fictional statement over twenty years ago to poke fun at the college's physicists. Two decades later, and long after Marble admitted the practical joke to Dobson, many still attribute the remark to Einstein.

The story reminds me of the frustrations expressed by leaders who struggle with rampant misinformation in their organizations. For example, one manager relayed the story of how a maintenance employee confronted her on an icy morning last winter, demanding to know why she had imposed a purchasing freeze on rock salt. "Who would start that rumor?" she wondered. "And why would anyone believe that I would do such a thing?"

Perhaps a simple mistake results in the dissemination of wrong information. Consider this retraction in the Dallas Morning News a year ago: "Norma Adams-Wade's June 15 column incorrectly called Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk a socialist. She is a socialite." Oops! Sorry, Mary Ann. Or maybe people just don't take time to check the facts. When Theodore Levitt died last month, the Associate Press credited the former editor of the Harvard Business Review with coining the term "globalization." As a result, obituaries around the country identified the word as Levitt's claim to fame. Since then, AP has clarified that Levitt "helped to popularize the term in a 1983 article for the publication, but he did not coin it."

Here's my point: The information your employees have is only as good as the information you give them. Give them the wrong information, and they'll spread it. Give them confusing information, and they'll likely misinterpret your message. Fail to give them any information, and they'll make it up, or get it from someone else. One more reason why you must Master Both Listening and Speaking.
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