The large cost of telling small lies

I just read an inspiring post about The surprisingly large cost of telling small lies. It tells the story of an angel investor called Peter who warns of the cost of lying. Talking about small lies such as exaggerating metrics or omitting facts he says:

that telling lies is the No. 1 reason entrepreneurs fail. Not because telling lies makes you a bad person but because the act of lying plucks you from the present, preventing you from facing what is really going on in your world. Every time you overreport a metric, underreport a cost, are less than honest with a client or a member of your team, you create a false reality and you start living in it.

I don’t know that telling lies is the No. 1 reason that entrepreneurs fail, I’m with Paul Graham in saying that not building something people want is the No. 1 reason, but I know where Peter is coming from. Telling lies, even small ones,  has two pernicious effects. Most obviously it is then important to live up to the lie, which may mean more and bigger lies down the line and a collapse in trust. The other, more subtle, effect is that people who lie start to believe their own BS, and hence their worldview departs from reality undermining judgement and making success harder to achieve.

In his 2012 book How will you measure your life? Clayton Christenson wrote that in matters like this “100% is easier than 98%” meaning that if you allow yourself even small slips then bigger slips become harder to avoid. That’s a mantra I’ve found myself repeating a lot recently. Returning to lying, I’m not advocating pedantically making sure that any possibility for misunderstanding is eliminated. You meet some people like that and whilst their integrity is beyond doubt they aren’t usually terribly persuasive people. On the other hand, you meet other people who seem to avoid even little lies and make clarifying statements whenever there is the possibility of a misunderstanding that would play to their advantage. They often sacrifice short term gains in the name of truth, but in the long term they are often very effective. That’s the way to be.

The final paragraph of the article carries the warning:

If you are reading this post and thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me — I never lie,” you are probably lying to yourself.

That’s me! I’m going to be watching myself closely over the next few days…


  • Colman Stephenson

    Great post.