The Truth About Facts

Rick Wartzman

In his latest column for Bloomberg Businessweek online, Drucker Institute Executive Director Rick Wartzman writes about “the shocking news that the public radio program ‘This American Life’ was forced to retract a report on conditions of Chinese workers who make Apple products, saying the broadcast contained ‘errors’ and ‘fabrications.’”

The show, which originally aired in January, focused on Apple supplier Foxconn Technology Group and was based on a theatrical monologue by Mike Daisey titled “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” Daisey’s performance was purportedly grounded in the first-hand observations he made during a 2010 trip to various Chinese factories, including Foxconn. But after listening to the radio show, an incredulous reporter retraced Daisey’s steps and found that many of the most dramatic moments that Daisey recounted were flat-out made up.

Wartzman uses the episode to explore what constitutes “facts.” While making clear that Daisey crossed the line, Wartzman says that “Peter Drucker would have been the first to caution that the ‘facts’ and the ‘truth’ can be awfully slippery concepts—an especially important thing for managers to keep in mind.”

“People do not start out with the search for facts,” Wartzman quotes Drucker as writing in The Effective Executive. “They start out with an opinion.”

“Indeed,” Wartzman adds, “to ask employees or colleagues to go search out the facts about a particular situation is often a prescription for delusion.” That’s because, as Drucker noted, they will “simply look for the facts that fit the conclusion they have already reached. And no one has ever failed to find the facts he is looking for.”