Thursday, January 17, 2013

5 lessons Manti Te’o will teach the world, whatever truth emerges

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.

Across every social media outlet on the web pictures are being uploaded every other second of gorking students, office workers and even celebrities, with their arm around a whole lot of fresh air, captioned with ‘my girlfriend’ and hashtagged ‘Teoing’.

For the uninitiated (which by now should include a couple of Tibetan monks and a single penguin somewhere in Antarctica) Manti Te’o is a highly tipped American college football player, likely to join the NFL from Notre Dame University in the upcoming draft. Here is the short version of the hottest story in America right now. He said he had a girlfriend he met at a football game. He said they went to Hawaii together. He said she had leukemia  He said she died in a car accident in September. He told his college that he got a call from her three months later. Now he says they never actually met. He says it was an online relationship. He says the woman he knew probably never existed. He says he was duped.  The press say he was in on it from the start and that he knew the woman never existed. They say he created a fake girlfriend.

At time of writing it seems extremely unclear what actually happened. Whatever comes out in the wash, there are lessons for us all as professionals and as people.

Accept that hoaxes happen, and that it could happen to you.

If you’ve seen the movie Catfish, you’ll know that a pretty smart guy can be dragged a long way into a fake relationship before it even occurs to him to go back to where he started and ask the most obvious questions. Is this person real? Is the voice on the phone the person in the pictures online? Accepting that there are hoaxers with all sorts of motivations out there and that you are as likely to encounter one as anyone else is key to avoiding them. If Te’o is on the level and he is a victim, then he has some serious questions to ask himself. Don’t wait until it’s too late to run through your sanity checklist, whether it’s at home or at work.

Tell the right people

Confirmation bias is a dangerous thing. Using anything convenient to reinforce your belief, at the expense of more obvious evidence to the contrary  is harder to do if you’ve got some input from some people you trust. If Teo’s version is true and he has just been fooled, then you have to ask why none of his friends smelled a rat. Most likely because he hid it from them.

If you’re going to lie, lie good. Better still – don’t lie at all.

Whether it’s business or personal, we all know that the moment we start to lie we lay the first strand of what is likely to become a tangled web. I have yet to encounter a moment in my career when lying would have been the most sensible strategy. We’ve all exaggerated a tiny bit; we’ve all overpromised slightly; we’ve spun something a bit more than was reasonable. We’re not angels, but there’s a long leap from this to creating and maintaining an absolute falsehood. Every kids fable you ever heard is true. Your nose gets longer and longer as it becomes harder and harder to keep a lid on your original lie. You end up lying about more things. You end up lying to more people, all to cover up the lie you should never have told in the first place. Nothing makes us look more foolish than being caught in a lie. It’s so embarrassing. Embarrassment is going to be served to Mr Te’o for breakfast, lunch and dinner from now until lord knows when.

 It’s never too soon to start handling the fall out.

The strongest piece of evidence suggesting that Te’o has been fooled, and is the innocent idiot that he claims to be, is that he went to Notre Dame himself to tell them about the call from the voice he had recognized as belonging to the girl who was supposedly dead. It’s strange he would do that. If he had made her up, why would he not just leave it alone and move on? But he still waited three weeks to talk to his employer and the people who were responsible for keeping him on the pitch and out of the tabloid press. This was a serious misjudgment. It’s never too soon to take your problem to the person whose job is to fix it for you. Talk to your PR department early, talk to your lawyer early. Equip the people you trust with the ability to help you as soon as you can. Get out in front of it if you can, whatever it is.

Beware the internet. Still.

Don’t get complacent about the net. We’ve all been desensitized by fifteen years exposure to the world wide web. It’s safe now. It’s policed now. Everyone is meeting safely on line these days. Business is secure online. You know better than this. Some simple precautions will protect you from the world’s largest single collection of scroungers, scammers, spammers and other digital ne’er-do-wells. Surfing the web without protecting yourself is akin to walking down the most dangerous street in your city at 2.00am towing all of your cash behind you on a trolley. In this case, the web will offer two lessons. Firstly, it’s easy to get scammed. Secondly, if you make a fool of yourself, there will be nowhere to hide. Your story will be everywhere, and open to everyone.

Nobody is safe. Not at work, not in their personal life. As the new adage goes, and Te’o should mark this well, the internet is the only place where geeks bully football players.  

Richard Spragg writes about a number of issues related to social media, marketing, engineering jobs. Find out more about Talascend, about electrical engineeringabout civil engineering and about mechanical engineering jobs from Our Website.