Facts are fiction

Walt Mossberg covers (has covered?) technology for a long, long, long time. He has earned the trust of many for his balanced views on technology in general and his quick read of trends. So, when he tweets, I pay attention.

Here is a recent tweet by him which caught my attention.

The tweet seems innocuous enough on the surface. What is to debate about the sanctity of facts over fiction? And then I got thinking. Are facts really facts? Take the simplest fact we can all agree on, flat-earther or not.

The sun rises in the east.

If John Oliver is to be believed, we don't need an opinion poll to determine that this is indeed fact, right?

Not so fast! The sun rising in the east is a "fact" which is true inside an opinion poll. How so? In the mists of time, some random guy proposed that we call the direction the sun rises from "East" and no one fought back to say "Heck no, Neano (just the kind of name a neanderthal would take for themselves!), we are going to call it 'Butt'".

Thank your lucky stars you don't have to go around saying "My Lord, the sun does in fact rise in the butt and sets in the west."

Funny thing is that we have built up all of human race - from its shipping lanes, its language for describing modes of life (e.g., Eastern vs Western Civilization), what direction a billion plus Muslims turn towards when they want to pray, to TV shows like East Enders - on an opinion shared by a lot of people.

The only "fact" here is that when two bodies revolve around each other, they appear to rise and set; i.e. to a static observer they seem to come into view and then disappear from view. If you traveled fast enough, you would never realize that things could rise and set. The "fact" that things rise and set is a limitation of how slowly we move relative to the speed of rotation of the earth.

Here's another fact -

What goes up, must come down.

More generally, this "fact" boils down to this - "Well, you cannot resist gravity." Hey, we are in the time of Trump so all facts are fungible, right?

Change a bit of perspective, tweak a little your frame of reference, and suddenly it the Earth that cannot get enough of you! Like an overeager ex, it will come onto you even though you've made it clear that you want to get away.

The Upshot

All this to say that a lot of facts are in fact (there's that word again!) opinions adopted en masse.

If you are still struggling to start up, reexamining what you consider "facts" is a great exercise to unlock your creativity.

Is cultivating a mailing list really one of the bests ways to grow your business? Before you spend months painstakingly seeding your mailing list one email at a time, consider this - Medium has so, so, so many publications catering to every sort of niche interest. Can you write for one or two publications focused on your area thereby reaching their readers as a trusted friend, not a growth hacker/huckster?

Is the lean startup/MVP movement the only way to move fast and learn things? Plenty of founders got their start as consultants getting clients to pay for them to learn on the job. At launch, they were working from a position of strength vis a vis the average MVP acolyte. They knew what worked or what didn't even before writing a lick of code.

Is it true that people pay a premium for well designed, well packaged goods? Take a train anywhere across India. The pinnacle of tea on the train is actually called "Kharaab" (the Hindi word for "terrible") chai. One day a tea vendor decided to try a new marketing tactic. He went around announcing that his tea was horrible but surprising his customers with how good it actually was. He made a name for himself on that leg of the train route. Soon, the rest of the country caught on and if you don't see a "Kharaab" chai vendor on your train journey, you are probably on a flight. Reexamine your mode of transport!

The web is suffused with self-help guides on how to make a dent in the world. These are written in beautiful typeface with beautiful people looking like they are having a beautiful time.

The problem is that EVERYONE is following the same rules of the road to success. And that, my friend, is a fact (?)

Facts are fiction
Share this