Lying

May 7, 2024

When I was three years old, I got a lesson from my Dad that lasted my whole life. I remember sitting on the porch with my Dad as he quizzed me (my memory remembers it as a long interrogation, but it couldn’t have lasted more than 5 minutes). I had lied to him about something-I can’t remember what it was. I remember crying probably thinking it would get me off the hook. It didn’t work. He talked about how lying was something that would damage me. That people couldn’t rely on someone who lied easily. If I wanted to be known as someone who could be trusted I needed to create myself as a person who didn’t lie. This memory lives inside of me to this day. When you’re a kid everyone lies to escape the consequences of bad actions. From this experience I didn’t do it. And when I trained my children, they went through the same thing as me. But they don’t lie either.

This was good in my career until I ended up working for a guy who lied as a matter of course. I was a researcher under him, and he wanted me to do some research on a plasma system that he had developed for X-ray masks. I read his papers then talked with him about the research. One question I asked was, “If this system was so good how come IBM and Bell Labs didn’t use it?” He had come from IBM, and I knew some of the guys at Bell. He answered that no one else had done this research and that was the reason why we had to do this work. So, I agreed and spent the next 18 months designing and building a system to do the testing. I am a careful experimenter and took great pains to replicate his work. My results were mixed. I could get great deposition rates of gold, but the uniformity was terrible, at least terrible for making X-ray masks. My boss was a semi-theorist but a poor experimenter. Finally, I went to him with all my data and asked what he thought I might be doing wrong. I was quite surprised when he exploded. I won’t repeat all the crappy things he said but one thing stood out. “You’re just like those guys from Bell and IBM Watson who claimed they couldn’t replicate my results.” All of a sudden, I realized that he’d lied to me. I’d spent 18 months of my life on a lie. I would never have agreed to do this job if I’d known that two groups of good researchers had failed at replicating his results. What was worse, he went to our bosses and lied about me again. And our bosses wouldn’t even discuss the real issue with me. Needless to say, I left that organization. I wasn’t fired but I immediately found three offers outside of that corrupt organization. I started a company that was quite successful with 3 other guys. Later on, I went back into the semiconductor business and did quite well. The one thing that marked me for people like Intel, Motorola and IBM was that I was honest. If a machine was bad, I said it was. Even as a VP I never lied.

Now this story is bad enough. I’m sure that all of you can tell me stories of people lying to damage you or blame you. But there is something worse. Lying to yourself. When you blow off a training session because you are “too tired” or “it won’t matter, just one day”, you are lying to yourself. You made a promise to yourself to do something to reach your goal. But you didn’t do it. Whether you realize it or not you have damaged your own integrity by these actions. These actions (or in actions) are just as damaging as lying to a spouse or friend.

Who are you? What kind of standard do you hold yourself to? I invite you to look at your actions and decide what your standards are. What things will you do today? What won’t you do, no matter what?

These thoughts matter.

To a great day,

Cliff


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