In the comments on the aforementioned Tom Peters post, Sean offers this cryptic statement: “Steve F. – ‘cept any praise of yours of Fiorina is perverse – she known as the “F word” @ HP & in free enterprise world.”
Let me decipher.
On page 28 of The Radical Leap (type “Fiorina” in Amazon’s “search inside this book” box) I quoted former Hewlett-Packard CEO, Carly Fiorina, from her MIT commencement address of June, 2000. You can read the full speech here, but here’s the passage I cited:
“A leader’s greatest obligation is to make possible an environment where people’s minds and hearts can be inventive, brave, human and strong, where people can aspire to do useful and significant things, where people can aspire to change the world.”
At the time, Carly was riding high at HP, and, for the most part, Hewlett-Packardites liked and respected her. Now, not so much. That she’s known as the “F word” (assuming that’s true) pretty much captures the sentiment of most of the HP folks that I’ve talked to.
Her words, though. What about them? Does her fall from esteem make them any less true?
We’re always careful to cite the source of a quote, not only because it’s the ethical thing to do, but because it’s supposed to lend credence to the message.
Kouzes and Posner said (the link to their site giving credibility to the following quote), “If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message.” But I’m not so sure. For example, how many times have you heard some variation of this:
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
I’ve heard that quote attributed to Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Rita Mae Brown, and I’ve heard it recited more times than I can count as an inviolable and indisputable statement of truth. If Einstein said it, it must be true. Oh, not Einstein, but Franklin? Still true. Rita Mae Brown? Okay, not as good, but, yeah, still true.
But what if we discovered, after all this time, that the source of the quote was really Elmer Fudd? Would you put it in your next PowerPoint presentation? I bet you wouldn’t–but why not? If the statement was true before, shouldn’t it still be?
If the source’s credibility falls, does it make the words any less true? And, conversely, does a rise in credibility inject the words with greater power, import and meaning?
Yes, it does.
And, no, it shouldn’t.
Fiorina’s words are true. Maybe her desire or ability–perceived or otherwise–to live up to them fell short of the promise, but it’s still a powerful–and let me say it again–true message. And it’s also true that I used to quote her in my speeches, but I don’t anymore. The reality is that the controversy around her name has clouded the beauty of her words–particularly to those who used to work for her.
So here’s where I land on it: To paraphrase the previous quote, “If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe that the messenger believes the message.” It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t–although that’s probably what will happen.
So back to Sean’s comment: I didn’t–perversely or otherwise–praise Carly Fiorina; I praised her words.
I think there’s a difference.
And you can quote me on that.