Everybody lies

The series had its ups and downs and wild swings in quality, but there is no question that Fox Television’s “House M.D.,” which came to an end after eight seasons this week, was consistently ambitious and compelling TV.  Held together at its center by the bravura performance of Hugh Laurie in the title role, the irascible, sometimes despicable, but clearly brilliant diagnostician, Dr. Gregory House, the series still managed to sustain an ensemble nature that is rare in dramatic series these days.

House’s catch phrase, “everybody lies,” was so memorable because it was so true.  The lies were (usually) not malicious, perhaps even unrecognized as lies by the patients and family members who uttered them.  But successfully diagnosing the bizarre and hidden ailment always rested on going past what the patient claimed and uncovering the actual facts behind the case — a task House and his team pursued with an astonishing disregard for privacy or simple human decency.

Now I am not suggesting associations should adopt a similarly sociopathic approach to analyzing members’ expressed needs and desires.  But a healthy skepticism that insists on validating what the members say they want with some objective and independent data before committing to a course of action can help the organization avoid sometimes costly strategic, marketing or policy mistakes.

My members (who create the official record of court and deposition proceedings) are engaged daily in capturing eyewitness testimony, most of it delivered with intense sincerity and conviction.  But any judge, lawyer or law enforcement officer will tell you that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable.  Everybody lies, House would say.  And the fact that the witness is convinced to their very core that they saw exactly what they say they saw doesn’t change the fact that the reality is often very different. You need to look harder and go further.

Who among us hasn’t been there?  Whenever asked, members at my association consistently say that the kind of programming they would most like to see more of are sessions on ethics.  Yet when offered, those sessions are equally consistent in being the most under-attended.

Ronald Reagan’s famous dictum “trust, but verify,” is a perhaps a kinder and gentler statement of the same principle.  It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to members or that we should stop asking for their input.  But in our market research and strategic analysis, we would all do well to look further and to demand some additional,  reliable and verifiable data before building our grand plans.

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