Many people place a high value on honesty. Today I want to talk about the value of predictability.
Imagine two people, Lying Lester and Honest Hal. Ask Lying Lester whether he likes pistachio ice cream and he may very well lie to you, saying “Yes, I like it very much.” Ask Honest Hal and he’ll also say “Yes, I like pistachio ice cream”, but then once you go out to the store and buy some from him, he’ll take a bite and then say “Sorry, I guess I was wrong, I don’t really like it after all.”
Honesty is great. Honesty is very important. Intent matters a lot. But predictability also matters a lot. Because what do we do with an honest answer? We act on it. We make conclusions based on it, we take it into consideration when making our plans. And if the answer we get is incorrect, our plans end up falling apart regardless of the original intent of the speaker.
It’s the “He means well” effect. Many people use “He (or she) means well” as an excuse for unacceptable behaviour. His intent is good, so forgive him, because the intent is more important than the outcome. What is this teaching? What is this reinforcing? It’s crazy to hope for behaviour A while rewarding behaviour B. People will enact behaviour B instead. (A classic example of this is hope that your employees will work hard but paying them for working long hours.) “He means well” is a perfectly fine reaction to the first few mistakes, but after that, it’s no longer a useful or compassionate reaction — you’re no longer doing anyone a favour. You’re just showing the person that their intent is what matters and that their results do not matter. And when intent becomes decoupled from results, it becomes meaningless and solipsistic.
Do you know anyone like Honest Hal? Do you know anyone who always tries to be honest, but often turns out to be wrong? Do you know anyone who always means well, but whose good intent never manages to affect their behaviour?