May 7, 2018

What Role Does Truth Play for You?, a CATA Op-Ed, Peter Schwartz, Founder & Executive Chair, Kognitiv

Inconvenient Truth

I was reminded of a recent business trip, an interminably long flights to Asia where I tortured myself by watching every in-flight movie available to pass the time.

In “A Knight’s Tale” – a Heath Ledger comedy about medieval knights – the character of Geoffrey Chaucer utters this fantastic line:

“I take the Truth and give it Scope”

At the time I laughed because I thought it was comedic genius.

In today’s world, that line seems less comedic and more of a mantra for leaders from across our political, business and academic spectrum.

The Truth is not the absolute, finite and fungible thing that philosophers, parents – and Mrs Bolton from Kindergarten – told me was so critical for a balanced and optimistic society.

Instead, in giving it “scope”, we have taken to stretching, bending and pulling Truth into whatever shape and dimension conveniently fits our current narrative.

Or worse, if you don’t like the Truth, then you can completely ignore it as an inconvenience. Some irritating lint to brush aside.

For a sense of how topical this subject is, in last Sunday’s New York Times Michael Hayden, the former Director of the CIA, was more scathing when he wrote “The End of Intelligence” . He bemoaned the lack of deep thinking, introspection and reflection surrounding matters of national security in the USA.

I won’t add more ink to any commentary about POTUS and his particular, or peculiar, style of leadership except to say that Michael Hayden’s point could be leveled against many outside of the Oval Office.

In Ontario we have political leadership that has amassed such a crushing debt that now we are ranked as the highest sovereign debt load ON THE PLANET. Ignore for a minute that they seem hell-bent on adding to that debt load by releasing new schemes of “free goodies” to all voters headed to the polls next month, where the truth gets “inconvenient” is in trying to get an accurate figure on the debt amassed – or when the Government plans to address it.

For a country reliant on natural resources that truth also seems to be rather inconvenient for our Federal government.  The recent provincial spat between BC and Alberta over the Kinder Morgan pipeline highlights this.

Regardless of where you stand on the topic, there can be no debate that Ottawa’s primary – arguably sole – responsibility is to create an environment of economic prosperity for ALL Canadians. That can’t happen if the natural resources we have, and the world still runs on, can’t get to market.

The absenteeism of the Feds – that ran up to the last minute – is akin to ignoring two quarrelling teenagers who you’re actually responsible for guiding. An inconvenient truth when you’d much rather be enjoying a sunny vacation.

From my vantage, the most inconvenient truth is the one we’re being told about the rude health of our economy, the lowest unemployment figures in years and how our current Government is making Canada more competitive and more innovative.

In reality this isn’t from the wizardry of our Finance, Trade or Innovation Ministers and Ministries. Favourable economics globally have benefitted all economies including Canada. And measures implemented by previous governments have given Ottawa a war chest that they’ve liberally spent – and continued spending – to create this economic miracle.  

In terms of Competitiveness and Innovation – two topics close to my heart –  nothing could be further from the truth.

We triumphantly welcome US  juggernauts into Vancouver, and into the Waterfront in Toronto, ignoring inconvenient truths like whether these organizations will pay taxes (they haven’t done previously so why start now?), what they intend to do with the treasure troves of data they’ll collect about Canadians (anybody miss the recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica story?)  or – and this is most concerning – how Canadian startups can actually compete against them to access to capital or talent.

The truth?

We’re selling ourselves as a source of cheap labour and a branch office for our US neighbours.

That’s hardly innovative and it certainly isn’t making us competitive.

All these inconveniences are so easy to push aside and bluster about when the tsunami of social media content meets the diminishing attention span of many of us. If, as Colonel Nathan Jessop screams in “A Few Good Men”, you can’t handle the truth, that’s ok. A truth you can handle will be along in a minute, shrink-wrapped and covered in shiny glitter, custom-built or manipulated into something that you can swallow and your confirmation bias will readily agree with.

Allowing our leaders – and ourselves – to ignore the truth because it is inconvenient to our pre-conceptions, biases or desires is the ultimate tragedy.

The truth isn’t – and shouldn’t be – inconvenient because it doesn’t conform to the world we wished we lived in – or the people we wish we were. And blaming Marketers is equally a cop out.

The responsibility lies with each of us.

To question when something (conveniently) seems too good to be true.

To debate and dialogue with those who have a different truth in their head. Perhaps, just maybe, the truth lies somewhere between the two of you.

To teach our children,  families, colleagues, and countrymen, that the truth may be real and may be harsh – but it provides an opportunity for CHANGE. If you don’t like today’s truth, then what are you going to do to change it? The truth is a mirror we hold up. It affords us the opportunity to change things we don’t like.

That’s why we can never ever consider it an inconvenience.

In “As You Like It” Shakespeare wrote “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players”

I wonder, what role does Truth play for you?

Peter Schwartz, Founder & Executive Chairman at Kognitiv, member CATA Innovation Leadership Council and recognized innovation advocate, shares his thoughts on the impact (see Facebook Live video) of the proposed federal tax changes with CATA CEO, John Reid.

Mr. Schwartz, has an overarching drive to restore confidence in the economy, a confidence he feels is being jeopardized by the proposed federal  tax changes. He speaks positively to the objective of fairness, but raises concerns over unintended consequences and the failure to fully understand how investment works in Canada towards a shared goal of creating world class companies. We must now engage all parties to find solutions in a responsible way.

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