How an investor exposed the big lie
Steve Marks, a venture capitalist from Northern California, felt good when he entered the manager's office in the fall of 2005. He was a guest at a young, up-and-coming computer animation company to find out if it would be worth investing in. They seemed to go well together straight away. In the company, which was located in San Francisco's trendy South of Market district, he met young animators dressed in fashion, who worked eagerly at their desks and vigorously crossed the long, open office space. Marks was enthusiastic about the enthusiasm of the employees and the productive atmosphere of the place. That was exactly what he had in mind. He knew that the company had reduced its production costs by 40 percent of the industry average. Part of the work was outsourced to the Far East, which created ideal conditions for dominating the market in a few years.
The numbers looked good - all he had to do now was make sure the manager had enough foresight to do that Company to make it a safe and profitable investment. The CEO wasted no time with a formal presentation. Rather, he led Marks through the various rooms, pointed out various aspects of the work, and answered Marks' questions as he passed. He noticed that he spoke hastily and sometimes mixed up a few words, but otherwise he looked confident and composed. He was clearly proud of what his company had accomplished in such a short time, and Marks could see why.
Don't fall for actors
After the tour, he thanked the manager and went to the elevators. He was practically certain that he would return to the office with good news. On his way to the exit, he passed a desk with a young woman dressed in black. With her leather vest and nose ring, she looked more like a party-loving night owl to him than a conscientious office worker - which was not unusual, because it was a young, unconventional company. Marks paused and watched the woman staring intently at the screen. "What are you working on now?" He asked casually.
The young woman looked at him. »What am I working on? Oh, just a software story, ”she said. They talked about innocuous topics for a while before Marks finally said goodbye. He had changed his mind. He knew he wasn't going to invest in the company after all. Marks went straight back to the manager's office, but this time he wanted to ask him some completely different questions. It didn't take long for him to be certain that the young woman and many of the other "company employees" were actually actors. They had been hired for Marks' visit to create the impression of busyness and thriving entrepreneurship - the opposite of what actually happened: the company was actually on the verge of bankruptcy. Marks had thus witnessed the actors collecting fees that were actually intended for staff that did not even exist. Moreover, he had avoided making an extremely bad investment. How did he do it?
Surrounded by lies
Steve Marks' story is just a dazzling example of the kind of deception we encounter every day. All too often we hear in the media about people whose trust has been misused - from a dishonest stockbroker, investment adviser, employee or from a board member who leaked information to the press, and the fatal consequences of this breach of trust. And if the abundance of bad news is not enough to rub your eyes in wonder and ask: "Could this happen to me too?", Then you should consider the following statistics:
- One in four Americans find it legitimate to lie to their insurance company.
- A third of all application letters intentionally contain incorrect information.
- One in five employees in the United States state that they are aware that fraudulent activities are commonplace in the workplace.
- Over 75 percent of all lies remain undetected.
- Deceptions and fraud cost the U.S. business world $ 994 billion annually - roughly 7 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
Why we don't recognize lies
Repeated studies have shown that the average adult can tell the truth from the lie in only 54 percent of all cases. It's almost a good idea! We don't seem to be able to do much of our own in this regard. Chimpanzees happen to have more or less the same hit rate. It should also be emphasized that this statistic only applies to cases in which we already suspect that someone might be cheating on us. And: The more we are convinced of our ability to uncover lies, the worse we are in general.
The reason for this is obvious, although one would not necessarily come up with it straight away. Although our lives are steeped in deception, it is in our best interest, as a species and as a civilized society, to maintain what psychologists call the "assumption of truth." If we have no reason to think otherwise, we humans - and especially Americans - tend to take what we see and / or hear at face value.
We believe in the truth
From the Trojan horse to Richard Nixon's "I'm not a villain"; from Lancelot and Guinevere's adultery to Bill Clinton's "I didn't have sex with this woman." Or from the songs sung in the playback that marked Milli Vanilli's career end to the fair of Chinese officials who sang the national anthem at the Beijing Olympics; from Charles Ponzi to Bernard Madoff, finding examples of lies that are both legendary and historical is a snap. Lies have changed the course of human history - and not only on a grand scale, but also individual fates have not been unaffected.
And yet we stick to the assumption that we are usually told the truth. Without this basic trust, our civilization could not survive for a day. Just try to imagine a society where everyone looks at each other with suspicion. Could normal human transactions and encounters still take place in such a scenario? Every trade would come to a standstill, investigations and discoveries would be stopped, even normal parent-child relationships - which are not always the best anyway - would be overshadowed by mistrust ...
There is a lot at stake
The better we get at exposing lies, the more sophisticated the stories of liars become. The more elaborate their old wives' tales and robber stories are, the more sophisticated are the techniques required to find out about them. We can observe this progress in development history almost every hour when we open our e-mail inbox. Even if we guard against the latest spam emails and online fraud attempts by setting up firewalls and filters, the spammers always seem to be one step ahead and to find new ways to manipulate. At the present time, phishing causes annual damage of $ 3,2 billion in the United States.14 According to current forecasts, the amount of damage per year in Germany is around 17 million euros.15
Although there are numerous examples of cheating, lying and betraying in all areas of life - just think of marriage, religion or politics - it is above all the business world that offers an ideal environment to embrace the constantly changing nature of Take a closer look at lies and deceptions. As business is becoming increasingly global, it has become all the more urgent for us to rethink the basis on which we trust someone, because there is an enormous amount at stake.
3 steps: how to recognize delusions
When someone says, "Oh, I sent the report to you two days ago. Didn't you get my email? ”Then we tend to believe him and assume that the message was lost due to a technical failure in the transmission. It is not just our tendency to believe things or events to be true that blinds us when we are deceived. To make matters worse, while we are trying to spot lies, we are not given a clear indication of whether we actually hit. If you throw your serve out in tennis, the mistake is obvious; Targeted practice increases the likelihood of bringing the ball into the field the next time.
We could possibly have computer chips built into our brains to convince ourselves of our lies, and yet there would still be enough Bernie Madoffs in the world who would find a way to outwit them. But why has the problem of lying become more acute? Because deceptions have now reached epidemic proportions. Because the number of media available today to spread and spread lies is growing almost uncontrollably and there are no signs that this tendency will soon wane. Not least because the storm of indignation that started when someone called "Liar!" Has long since subsided.
How to practice recognizing delusions
One would think that we humans would have been wise by experience a few thousand years ago, considering the amount of evidence that confirms that you just can't trust some of your contemporaries. However, suspicion of deception is not always correctly confirmed. But without certainty, it is difficult to get better at exposing lies. Ask the following questions:
- How do we know if we are correct in our assumption?
- We miss a lot of lies, how can we ever learn to recognize the evidence of deception?
- So what weapons will you use to defend yourself against deception?
There are always two: Don't agree to the lie
Nobody can lie to you without your consent. The liar and the liar work hand in hand to prepare the ground for the lie. A lie does not gain power by being uttered, but by someone willing to believe it.
- Whether I make the decision to believe that a stock goes up, that my dress looks stunning on me, or that I was accidentally not put on the recipient list of an email depends on how I look at the world. My assessment criteria for a situation are the glasses through which I look at information.
- So if I have my greed under control (I handle the risk on the stock exchange with caution), my ego is intact (I know that I don't have everything) and I keep my impulsiveness at bay (although I urgently need the job, I decide not to assume that the company will still be solvent in six months), then I can start to take a sober look at the facts and see the signs of deception with an unbiased eye.
- Always remember: No one can lie to you if you don't agree to be lied to. Get rid of wrong assumptions.
What to do if you lose trust?
In our society the lively circulation of money and information is due to a basic trust that we take for granted. If we receive monthly salary in our account, the bank grants us credit. If we buy food with a seal of approval, we assume that it can be consumed without hesitation. If we hire a renowned and talented accountant, he will manage our company's finances to the best of our knowledge and belief. Only when the bond of trust is broken can we see how much we rely on it to put our business - and our assets - on a stable footing.
- Just think of Jérôme Kerviel, the dealer of the Société Générale, whose fraudulent activities cost the bank over $ 7 billion. So trust has its price, because it is often associated with huge sums of money if a deception in retrospect comes to light. Although Kerviel's activities did not completely destroy Société Générale, they did five times more damage than Nick Leeson's speculations twelve years earlier - which had led to the collapse of his employer, the traditional Barings Bank. In extreme cases, lies in the business world are not only expensive, they can also cost lives.
- Chinese authorities discovered in 2008 that 22 domestic dairies knowingly contaminated milk with the melamine toxin to increase the protein content of dairy products. Four years earlier, 13 babies had died in a similar scandal, and in 2007 melamine-contaminated pet food from China had killed several domestic animals in the United States. However, seven of the companies responsible were given permission to carry out internal quality controls instead of having their products checked by external bodies.
- China's efforts to present itself as a confidence-inspiring economic power suffered a severe setback when six Chinese babies died and hundreds of thousands fell ill. In addition to China, the countries affected also included Taiwan, Yemen, Bangladesh, Gabon, Burundi, Sweden, Denmark and New Zealand. One of the damaged companies was the coffee giant Starbucks, which was forced to recall milk from 300 coffee shops in China.17 Fraudulent traders, board members who hide important information from investors, heads of state who take perjury to cover up sex scandals, and companies who deliberately advertise and sell defective products - our company pays an enormously high price for companies and executives who trade in lies.
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