Monday, September 19, 2011

Truth or Fiction–Perception and Life Experience

People who know me well know that I’m as pragmatic as they come.  In fact, I am sometimes perceived as one of the toughest skeptics in business because of my demand of others to back claims, beliefs and ideas with hard data and research. As I have often said to others when they approach me with a business intention and a gut feeling that they will make a bazillion dollars without a shred of evidence, strategy, research or planning, “it sucks when reality gets in the way of dreams”.

This afternoon, as I completed a stack of paperwork for clients and had a moment to pause, a conversation I had many years ago with my now-deceased father-in-law came to mind and it caused me to reflect upon it.

He had an interesting career.  He was a decorated B-25 pilot in WWII (appearing on the cover of Life magazine at the time) and went on to serve his country in the USAF, Strategic Air Command and Air National Guard before retiring with the rank of Colonel.

He was sharp as a tack, uber-pragmatic and had zero tolerance for “BS artists”.  He loved his country and while I knew he worked on some “interesting projects” at Wright Patterson AFB and other locations, he never shared his work or the secrets he was privy to.

However, he did have one interesting story that I have often thought about and for some reason as I completed my paperwork today, it came to mind.

One night we were sitting in his living room with its gorgeous views of the mountains.  He had been partaking of a little Scotch and we had been enjoying some idle chatter about everything and nothing, including recent advances in military technology.

Suddenly he got really serious, looked at me with his piercing eyes and asked me “Where do you think most of our recent advances in military technology have come from?”

I stopped for a moment, shrugged and said “With so many contractors working for the government, it’s not hard to see how smart people can create this stuff”.

Without hesitation, he asked again “It doesn’t come from here.  Where do you really think it comes from?”

Sensing that I had guessed poorly the first time, I responded “I don’t know.  Did we steal it from someone else, maybe the Russians or the Chinese?”

Getting a little agitated, he said “I just told you that it doesn’t come from here.  Where do you think it comes from?”

I had no response now, since if we didn’t create it and we hadn’t “borrowed it” from someone else, I had no suggestion.

He  persisted and asked me again where I thought it came from.

It appeared that he wanted me to guess something without actually telling me.  I was starting to get the idea of what he was inferring but I wanted to hear it from him and so I played dumb.  We explored the topic for a little while before he called it a night and went to bed. 

The next morning over breakfast, he looked at me across the table and said “I probably had a little too much to drink last night and may have said a few things I shouldn’t have said.  Anything we discussed last night is not to be discussed further”.

I made some crack about sharing it only with my closest friends and he hit his fist on the table and said “God damn it,  I’m not kidding.  It’s in your best interests to forget what we spoke about”.

The look in his eyes told me he wasn’t kidding and I assured him that I would be quiet about it.

Over the years, I have only shared this story with a few close friends but I have never shared it publicly until now, even thought what I am sharing is only part of what we discussed.

Even as I write this, I have no idea why I am sharing it on a blog where I muse about about leadership, strategy, technology and living.

However, as I think about that late-night conversation, a couple of quotes come to mind by people writing off things as impossible:

"Flight by machines heavier than air is unpractical and insignificant, if not utterly impossible." - Simon Newcomb, 1902

"There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will." -- Albert Einstein, 1932

So when I think back to the night when my father-in-law and I debated the mysterious, controversial origins of modern military technology and I think of brilliant people in the past who said that many of the things that we take for granted were once believed to be impossible, I wonder …..

Is it possible that in many situations, the difference between what we delineate as truth or fiction has nothing to do with what we are judging but is entirely based on the life experiences of the person doing the judging?

Perhaps if we were to come to this realization, we would stop looking at proving everything as right or wrong but instead, would use such opportunities to fill gaps in our knowledge.

As perhaps my father-in-law tried to do with me, the uber-left-brained skeptic who insists upon hard data before moving something from the “fiction” box to the “truth” box.

And besides, implying that modern military technology has its origins from “somewhere / someone else” is just fiction.

Isn’t it?

In service and servanthood,



  1. I think this post illustrates that one can keep a very open mind, while at the same time vetting every idea that comes their way. I think that the two traits compliment each other beautifully.

    I wish I could have been a fly on the wall during that conversation with your father-in-law. :-)

  2. Thanks for your kind comment, Nathan.

    Truthfully, what we discussed was disturbing. Why?

    Because either ...

    1. The guys controlling the military are misguided or off in the head - not comforting when you realize they are heavily armed.


    2. Something is really happening.

    Neither thought is comforting. I also don't subscribe to the thought that if something is out there, that it is benevolent. If that were the case, "they" would have been revealed already, even if it freaked out a few people.

    Thanks again, Nathan!

    Take care and create a great day!