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Editor's Notebook

Reality Check: Truthiness, Pizza, Ambition and the American Way

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As this marks my 100th column as editor of Tire Review – and it is April! – I thought I’d offer this little but pertinent business parable.

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There once was a man with ambition and a plan.

Slaving away as the assistant manager of a local pizza joint, he felt there had to be a better way, yet he lacked the backing to strike out on his own.

So he got creative. Scratching together what he could, he had some pizza boxes and flyers printed up, and bought a phone number. He became a real “pizzeria,” minus the building and booths and the oven.

He struck a deal with the cheapest pizza joint in town: “Make my pizzas for me, put them in these boxes and charge me $3 less than your retail price. In exchange, I’ll keep your ovens running and guarantee you X number of pies per week.”

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Deal in hand, he told anyone who would listen about his “world-class pizza” and put his flyers anywhere a piece of paper could go. He pounded out his “world-class” message loud and long and soon enough his phone started ringing and orders came in.

He didn’t care that his pizzas weren’t all that great, the $4 per pie he made was reward enough. Customers assumed he made the “world class” pies, and what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. Hot and fast “world class” was what customers wanted, and fast delivery would disguise any quality shortcomings.

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Orders piled up, and he and his silent supplier couldn’t be happier. Then the cost of cheese and pepperoni went up, and every house in town had to raise prices. “Not me,” he told anyone who would listen. He ate the increase, hoping that his now lower price would drive volume and that it would all work out in the end.

Sales did grow, enough to stretch the man with a plan quite thin. His “hot and fast” deliveries slowed, but he’d feather his nest by saying, “We’ve become hugely popular. Everyone wants our pies. Our pizzeria is packed and it’s hard to keep up with all of the business.” Soon he had to hire another driver, cutting his take.

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Even as orders increased and business became less profitable, he couldn’t stay out of the way of his own ambition. His “pizzeria” wasn’t big enough, he told anyone who would listen. “I’m gonna build the biggest and best pizza house in town. It’s gonna have chandeliers and a marble floor, and the best ingredients and ovens money can buy. And all of my customers will enjoy pies that are even bigger and better than ever.”

His new story hit ear after ear, and some pizza fans got excited and wondered when the man with a plan would build his pizza palace. Keeping up appearances, he took to showing pictures of empty (and oddly unidentifiable) storefronts he was going to buy and tear down to make way for his super pizzeria.

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Behind the scenes, though, the man with a plan was scrambling to find someone with money to burn. He scratched together an investment proposal, calling on anyone he thought might help. He made his investment offer sound even more lucrative by telling anyone who would listen that he’d already been offered a king’s ransom for his “pizzeria.”

People started asking questions about his plans, lots of questions, and he danced and danced until he could dance no more and the “truth” trickled out. The orders stopped; pizza was pizza, after all, and his was no better than the rest. At least not enough to make up for all of the dancing.

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The point of this parable about a man with a plan is simple: Beware of with whom you dance and what tune they are playing. When supplies are tight, prices go up and “more competitive” options present themselves. The wolves are out, and they are hunting any lamb in the field.

Don’t get seduced by the “story,” particularly tales that are long on aspiration and short on proof. When the storyteller’s ambition collides with reality, you may be left holding the bag. Trust your gut, and remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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Journalists are taught to seek the truth, and to tell all sides of “the story.” But truth-seeking is a Quixotic venture because there is no such thing as “the truth.” What passes for the truth today is just the unique impressions some preconceived) of the participants.

That’s a phenomenon we now call “truthiness” – how politicos, pundits and men with plans bend their “reality” into someone else’s “truth.” In this age of complacency, ambitious people will say the same thing over and over, with enough vigor and conviction that their message prevails even in the face of mounting contrary evidence.

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Be vigilant. There are men with plans everywhere. Don’t let their truthiness become your unfortunate reality.

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