Telling The Truth

I’m going through another maze of medical “opinions”… this time trying to find a vet who’ll give me some straight talk about the condition of my dog’s health.

I’ve sat down with dozens of vets over the years. Interesting breed of professional — they are, typically, the most educated and least paid in the medical field. The best go through as much schooling as “human” physicians do… and though they aren’t officially sanctioned to work on people, I would not hesitate to seek care from one in an emergency.

There are bad ones, no doubt… but the good ones are really good. Maybe it’s because they love animals so much — if you hate fur, you’re not a good fit for the job. You gotta enjoy getting dirty.

At any rate, I’ve learned a ton of important stuff from hanging around vet’s offices. My little adventure this time through the system took me to the UC Davis vet teaching hosptial… where the head of oncology spent over three hours with us.

He wanted to make absolutely sure we had every question answered, and answered to our satisfaction.

Compare that with my friend who found himself in a Miami emergency room with a life-threatening condition last month. They saved his ass… but the doctor spent all of two minutes with him, and if my friend didn’t know how to Google for his own information, he would still be in the dark about what actually happened. And how to keep it from happening again.

So, over all, I’ve been very happy with my experiences with animal docs.

However, there is still one nagging, very bothersome complaint: Though I know some of these vets well… it was like pulling teeth to get the truth out of them.

They all have a natural tendency to want to “coat” bad news with jargon. They also downplay the bad side effects when they’re urging us to go with one treatment method. The only way I know this, is that by boning up on info ourselves, and playing “dumb” with each new vet we saw, a better picture of what was going on emerged.

The truth — defined as what the broad spectrum of possibilities were, rather than the narrow opinion of any one vet — was elusive. It was only at the university hospital… and only at the very end of a long and grueling discussion… that the head doc finally leaned back, actually threw up his hands… and told us the truth about what was going on.

Basically, he said “If this was my dog…” and then delivered his educated opinion. I won’t bore you with the details, because what’s important here is this delivery of straight talk.

The vets are very much like many marketers. When you’re steeped in the details of anything, it gets more and more difficult to nurture absolute opinions, and you start including all sorts of disclaimers. A rookie consultant — and I’ve been around a few — might say “You do this and then this… every single time.” After twenty years in the biz, though, I find myself starting every piece of advice with “It depends on what outcome you want…”.

I say this because I now know that “truth” is dependent on the variables of the situation. There’s is seldom just one answer.

There are no — or at least very few — absolutes in anything. Two plus two always equals four… unless you’re dealing with amoebas that merge and purge, and then you may end up with three, or one, or a dozen. Staying with math, pi can be described as a rather small, tidy number… or a monster several hundred numbers deep. Which answer is the “truth”? Depends on what the question is.

And, I’m sorry, but if your politics involve principles you consider absolute — no matter what — then you’re a deluded idealist. The current government is full of ’em… all trying desperately to stuff square complex problems into round simple holes. It doesn’t work so well.

In marketing, ask yourself which camp you fall into — either trying to convince your audience that the answers to their problems are simple and absolute, or that the answers are so complex they need a guide like you. And then step back, and re-examine that position as a prospect.

You know what I’ve found? Most folks just want the truth as it applies to their situation, no matter how brutal or unpleasant it may be. They distrust rosy pictures that deny anything could ever go wrong. They bristle not just when they’re lied to — which is unforgivable — but also when misled.

And yet, they are seldom treated with straight talk.

Long ago, I decided that when I critiqued a piece of copy — a service I offer my Insiders — I would do it the same way I critique my own copy. Which means, there’s no flattery involved. It’s just a straight-on “does it work” assault, run through my Bullshit Detector and my Innder Salesman. If the copy doesn’t meet my high standards, it most likely will not produce world class results.

And so I am not shy about trashing your effort if it’s bad. There’s money on the line. There are other places you can go if all you want is someone to stroke your ego. I won’t do it — if you’re gonna send an ad out into the bad old business world, it needs to be all grown up and ready to meet the skepticism and disbelief and outright hostility of the real market. Or it will bomb.

That’s all I’ve ever done, in my newsletters, my blog, and my teaching events: Just lay it out, and tell the truth, as precisely as I can.

Now, there are many markets where telling the truth will get you burned. Politics, for example. The diet market, for another. (There is and alwasys will be a niche for truth-telling in both examples… but the main part of each audience will never appreciate the truth. They want to be lied to.)

I was shocked when that one vet just opened up and spoke to me like I was a peer, minus the soft soothing tones he obviously used for most people. I wanted the straight dope, and was ready to hear the worst. Turned out, the worst wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I’d feared.

Now, finally, we can decide what to do… armed with good info.

In the movie “A Few Good Men”, Jack Nickolson (playing a Gitmo commanding officer) famously said “You can’t handle the truth.” It was a stunning moment. And his opinion, I’ve discovered, is shared by many people in positions of power.

But the Tom Cruise JAG lawyer disagreed. He didn’t say it, but his stance was “The truth will set you free.” That isn’t true across the board, because, as I said, there are many people who really don’t want to hear the truth, not ever.

Still, it’s worth spending some time figuring out what stance is best for your particular market.

I’ve always advised people to aspire to become the “Go To Guy” in their market… because few markets already have someone in that spot. And, being a Go To Guy means you must have a handle on the bottom line truth… and be willing to explain that truth in a way that informs and empowers your customers.

It’s not the easiest row to hoe. We’re not brought up to appreciate the value of the truth, and we’re not taught to respect it. (I haven’t gone through medical school, but I’ve spent enough time with doctors to know that they do NOT believe you — as the patient — deserve to know everything. Too many of them believe M.D. stands for “Medical Deity”, and that you should just take their advice and shut up. The only way to avoid nasty surprises is to get hip. You only get the “peer” treatment when you prove to him that you know nearly as much as he does.)

This is not a simple subject. I wish it were.

Do what you believe is right. In my experience, however, the truth is always better than delusion. If it’s bad news, you’re not going to shed more tears than if you were “protected”.

It’s funny, in a way — here we are, deep in the Information Age, and truth remains a rare thing.

Ah, the irony.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

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  • Greg McLafferty says:

    Sorry, John — there are no more doctors in America. They are all ACTORS! Go to them for any problem and they do nothing but give you referrals, from one doctor to another — all getting their referral bonus. They play “dumb.” Then they milk your insurance policy for whatever they can legally get and then deny you what your body needs so they can get their other bonus for keeping costs down. Round and round it goes, having you coming and going while they’re all laughing and giggling. It’s amazing all the technology and cures out there but we here in America don’t get much of it because the insurance companies deny the coverage. Just ask Aetna. USA Today and The Wall Street Journal both reported that Aetna has already admitted to all this denial of coverage in addition to all those bonus programs out there for the doctors to pick and choose from. But what gets me ticked is they aren’t even penalized for this. In fact, Aetna just said that they will “cut down” on these things. Arrrrrrgphhhhh!

    On the dog issue, check with the PR Expert — Paul Hartunian. He not only loves dogs but is a doctor himself.

    And no, I don’t get a referral bonus either.

    Keep up the good work John.


  • Ken Calhoun says:

    Great points, John. And that’s a key to online success. In the trading industry, which is hip-deep in BS (like internet marketing for that matter), I’ve earned a bundle by being the outsider telling people it’s hard, it’s difficult and there’s no easy answers, and that most vendors who promise instant trading profits are full of sh-t. And people agree, because that’s the truth. So I gain trust. And sales.

    Although “simple, easy, fun, painless” sells (to unsophisticated audiences), the audiences that are savvy (golf, finance, sales, gaming), respond to my pitches because I tell them it takes years to learn and it’s hard and I can share what I’ve learned but they’re still gonna have to work hard to be successful.

    And it sells. Because it’s the truth. So I like the “you can’t handle the truth, it’s a lot harder than you ever thought it would be” approach, but here’s a few shortcut secrets that can help you whittle down the learning curve.

    Good points as always. I liked your idea that truth is best, and to think of the spectrum, of which positioning angle to use, whether easy/simple answers work, or be the indiana jones taking the prospect safely through a tough jungle type of approach.


  • George Paiva says:

    Mr. Carlton:

    With Thanksgiving nearly upon us, I felt compelled to express my “heartfelt” gratitude to you.

    So many times in life, we wait for the “perfect” time to tell those who mean so much to us–even if we’ve never met them personally–the impact they’ve had on our life.

    And even though it’s impossible to adequately express “it” with words, please just “know” the deep respect, admiration and appreciation that goes out to you this Thanksgiving.

    You are a very generous person and I hope you feel just a tad “warm and fuzzy” this Thanksgiving knowing you have enriched my life and the lives of so many others.

    Thank you.


    George Paiva

    P.S. I hope your dog’s health condition is improving.

  • Robert stover says:

    Great points on the Expert vs. Novice.

    I’ve got a few friends who are incredibly accomplished martial artist. Ask a novice what he’d with a certain attack or grab and his answer is, “I’d handle it just like this!” Ask one of these experts and their answer is “I don’t know’ – or – ‘it depends”.

  • Karen Callahan says:


    Your experience with rover is very similar to the experiences I have had over the past two weeks.

    Unfortunately, I was visiting an Orthopedic surgeon for my own back problems.

    I have been living with part of my problem for about 25 years, problems as a result of being hit by a drunk driver.

    I have visited numerous specialists over the course of the years in an attempt to deal with the complications.

    It kills me that every time I have to start over with a new doctor they talk to me like I am an idiot.

    C’mon, I’m 47 and have had this problem 25 years. Don’t you think I have a clue as to what is going on here?

    So today, after another series of X-Rays and MRI’s, the guy says I don’t need surgery but he is going to refer me to a specialist that can help me.

    Now what does that mean? After currency has been exchanged that is all I get?

    I attempt second level questions only to be shut down. Such B.S…

    So, I went home and analyzed the report from the radioligist and was able to diagnose and identify what I believe to be the potential solutions.

    I was also able to identify probable outcomes/expectations given my condition over time.

    So the question is…why am I talking to this guy? Why not just get an MRI and the report and figure it out for yourself? It would probably drive insurance prices down.

    What a racquet.

    In thinking about your comments though… it makes me wonder whether the lack of communication from this guy is an attempt to,

    -avoid telling me the real truth because he does not know how to position it,

    -or whether he doesn’t really know. (Hard to beleive given that he is a back surgeon. This certainly would make you question your doc selection…)

    I know the answer now, but I would of appreciated hearing it from him.

    The process needs a little re-engineering if you ask me.

    Just my two cents…


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