Truth, honesty and running a business on the internet

Heading out
I’ve fled to my heart’s home: I’m at the beach, watching the coal ships define the horizon.

I dig down into the cooler sand and widen the moat. The next wave should fill it, and then my sandcastle will be complete.

I lick the salt from my lips, and suddenly realise that the alchemist is sitting next to me. She plants a small flag in the castle and smiles.

Troubled? she says. I listen if you wish to speak.

“More sad than troubled, I think.” I say. “I’ve realised that I must let go of an old belief about how the world works.”

And what is that?

“I believed that there was Truth, and when it stood revealed everyone would recognise it. And accept it.”

This is not so?

“No, I don’t think it is. I suspect that truth, like beauty, lives only in the eye of the beholder.”

Is this about the recent scandal?

“Yes. But it’s also about politics, that book of Byzantine history and the friend-of-a-friend incident. It’s happening a lot right now.”

What do all of these events have in common?

“Everyone believes that they know the truth. But often, his truth and her truth couldn’t possibly exist in the same universe.”

Many incompatible beliefs exist in the same universe. Why are you exasperated?

“Because I keep seeing both groups operate with the ironclad certainty of righteousness. And so every truth crusader ends up kind of shitty.”

The truth creates righteousness?

“I think it goes, “I know the truth, and the truth is right. Why would I do anything to become less right? So shut up.””

Ah. So what do you believe in?

“I believe in science. And honesty.”

Why science?

“Science says, “Create a hypothesis. Test it. If it doesn’t hold up to testing, it’s incorrect. If it passes the tests, it’s correct. Until something changes.””

Ah. The idea that nothing is eternally true. The sun may not rise from the east tomorrow.

“Yes. And if it doesn’t, then lots of people will have to change their hypotheses.”

Science, then, is to you a constant testing of reality, and adaptation to its change?

“Yes. And while people can deny fact, it requires a wilful amount of deceit to do so.”

How is fact different from truth?

“Hmm. Because… fact has no interpretation. Water boils at 100C, but it doesn’t tell you if that’s good or bad.”

So truth involves moral judgement, and fact does not?

“I guess, yeah. I mean, at least in the way that most people use it. People say, “The truth is, she’s a graffiti artist. The truth is, he’s a scumbag.” Although they do sometimes use “the fact of the matter”, too. Fuck.”

Ah, language. The word “truth” is often used both to describe the grounded scientific reality you mention, but it also can be used to describe moral imperatives.

“Yes. YES! And since people are really unclear about which way they’re using it, things get fucked up. They might say they’re describing objective reality, but their own standards for judging the world sneak in. And so their truth is completely subjective.”

But they are as certain of it as if it was entirely objective.

Exactly. And so people say incorrect or semi-correct statements with all the force of certainty. And then someone else does it with their own “truth”. And then shit gets ugly.”

And thus, science.

“Yes. Science is supposed to be completely objective.”

Supposed to be?

“People are still… people. But it’s a self-correcting system.”

Ah. And what about honesty?

“Well, you see, science is a way for me to objectively assess reality. Honesty is about judging my subjective reality.”

Judging. So this is a moral stance?

“Yes. It’s me judging myself and whether I’ve acted in line with my own standards.”

And what are your standards of internal truth?

“I don’t know if I’ve ever codified them before. Hold on.” I go fetch some driftwood and draw on the sand, scratch out, draw again. “There.”

Hmm, I see. I especially like the third one. Are you planning to tell your readers about them?

“I don’t know if there’s much point. These are entirely subjective standards, and there’s no way for people who aren’t in my head to know whether I’m meeting most of them or not. I suspect it would just be flattering my own ego to tell them exactly what they are.”

That violates rule four, but is perfectly in line with rule five. I see.

“I could always invoke seven.”

That seems an adequate solution. Also, you no longer sound as sad.

“Well, I am. People are so cruel to each other, and it hurts to watch. And to be part of.”

But rule seven.

“I kinda hate rule seven at times.”

I understand. But the world is what it is, and we can at the deepest level change only ourselves.

“That’s depressing news from an alchemist.”

Them’s the breaks, kid.

“No sweet note to end this on?”

I’m afraid not.

So together the alchemist and I watch the ships define the horizon, as the salt on our cheeks tastes like tears.

The moral of the story

Actually, there are two points I want to make here.

We all need our own standards for truth, reality and how we behave as public people in a world where almost everything is documented.

When I was young, I lied pretty regularly. Mostly for self-aggrandisement, sometimes in order to avoid pain.

I am so damn glad I outgrew that habit before the internet took off.

The internet is a giant accountability machine.

It remembers everything.

We have all seen it happen – the employee who forgets that their boss is a Facebook friend (“Yeah, skydiving! So glad I lied to my boss about having the flu!”), the politician caught contradicting themselves, the whistleblower email…

This is the age of Wikileaks.

This is the age of citizen journalism.

This is an age where Mark Twain’s quote “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” makes even more sense. (Although maybe it should be “If you tell the truth, your Twitter won’t contradict your Google+.”)

You must decide in advance what you will talk about, what you will keep private, what levels of disclosure you’re okay with. Things like:

  • Is lying by omission acceptable?
  • Will you mention your kids by codename, real name, or never at all?
  • How much spin and varnish do you feel comfortable with?
  • Do you delete comments that disagree with you?
  • Do you actively mention people who disagree with you?
  • If you’re experiencing the problem you solve, do you tell people?

Decide now, before the pressure is on. We are outrageously bad at making moral decisions when we’re scared, hungry or seeking approval, unless we already made the decision in advance. (Not that we get it right all the time then, either. But the odds do improve dramatically.)

If you don’t create your rules in advance, then expect scandal. It will come.

*dramatic foreshadowing music*

Also, we have to be very clear on which of those standards apply only to ourselves.

When we say, “The truth is…” often we mean, “What I think the truth is…”

Your truth is valid. But it isn’t necessarily universal.

It’s irritating as hell to constantly caveat with, “Of course, this is just my opinion…” but it matters. Especially online, where your words stand alone, without tone, body language or sometimes even the context of the rest of your statement.

The more you consciously separate fact from your truth, the better. There really is a qualitative difference between, “Bill took three weeks to respond to my email. I regard that as atrocious customer service.” and, “Bill took three weeks to respond to my email. His customer service is atrocious.”

One gets refunds. The other starts flame-wars. (“Well, Bill replied to my email the same day and he was super-helpful. You’re wrong!”)

I had 130-ish comments to my last article about a seriously contentious topic, but that conversation stayed – mostly – respectful and on-topic. And that was largely due to conscious outlining of assumptions and separating fact from… everything else.

This isn’t the end, I think.

There are some more thoughts I’m going to need to tease out about how to mesh the definitive statements (“This is the best way to accomplish [x]”) that you need (?) to make as an authority in your field, with the nuance and honesty that respects your audience.

We will also see the continued fallout of this scandal, and the next one, and the one after that. I suspect that this is to some extent a generational issue, one that affects those that didn’t grow up with their every word being cached online forever.

Oh, and by the way… Rule Seven of my internal standards of honesty is this: “Assume that other people are smart enough to make their own decisions.”

Thus: if it would be valuable for you to know my other rules, feel free to ask.

I’d like to hear your thoughts, whether you’re caught up in the current scandal, or a different one, or you still bears the scars of one in the past. Is complete disclosure the only way to go? How do you separate truth from fact… and do you need to?

In the meantime, if you’d like to observe how I handle disclosure and honesty, you need to be subscribed to the new and improved Mo’Cash, Mo’Joy. All the truthiness that’s fit to print, ladies and gentlemen.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Nomad Tales


On death threats, responsibility, and making it clear

[Edit: Hello lovelies. Yes, since I wrote this article we’re up to five – or is it six? – extra layers of claim and counter-claim and revelation and events. I have absolutely no possibility of keeping up with it, and am no longer trying to. Whatever happened or did not happen, the point I wrote this article to make is still 100% valid. Thanks.]

A wee bit of background, for people not in the loop:

Naomi Dunford runs a site called Ittybiz.

Recently, Naomi wrote a post that said that she had received death threats.

These are facts.

There are also plenty of opinions and rumours flying around. Let’s get a few key ones on the table.

Rumours like:

Late last year Naomi left her husband Jamie and shortly thereafter ran away with Dave Navarro – the launch guy, not the guitarist.

Naomi ran her yearly sale for her husband’s birthday after they’d split up.

Opinions like:

Naomi heavily promoted Dave’s work, announcing she was a completely disinterested party giving advice, and that was… disingenous, to say the least.

Naomi has been manipulative/skeezy/dishonest/unethical/counter-brand in the last year.

The rumours may or may not be true. The opinions are of course entirely subjective.

But let’s, for the sake of me having a useful discussion without qualifying every single sentence, make a few assumptions.

Let’s assume that Naomi did leave her husband, then have a sale for him, then run away to Europe with Non-Guitarist Dave, then promote Non-Guitarist Dave’s work as if she had no stake in it, then continue running her business while talking about none of these events.

Let’s also assume that she received death threats exactly in the manner she said.

These are two completely separate issues.

Let me say this again:

Naomi’s actions and the actions of the people who sent her death threats are completely separate issues.

Naomi is responsible for her actions.

The death-threat-senders – let us call them the Murderous Assholes for short – are responsible for their actions.

We tend to forget this.

We say, “Well, death threats are clearly Not Cool, but she did run away with another woman’s husband…”



Naomi Dunford is not in any way responsible for the Murderous Assholes sending her death threats. Naomi is responsible for what Naomi has said and done, and nothing else.

The only people who are responsible for sending death threats are the mysognistic fuckheads who send them.

They own that. Only them.

When we are talking about this issue, or anything else like it, we MUST delineate responsibility.

I own my actions.

You own yours.

And there is not one single “but so-and-so did this” that alters our responsibility.

If you punch someone, it doesn’t matter what they said beforehand. You own that punch.

If you deceive someone, it doesn’t matter how much you needed the money. You own that deceit.

If you send a death threat, it doesn’t matter what that person did or did not do. You own that threat.

We are at all times reponsible for our own actions. And when we talk about situations where actions have followed after each other, we have to be careful to remember that the previous action doesn’t own the one that comes after.

Only the person who did it owns the action.

It doesn’t matter what Naomi did or did not do. Someone sent her a death threat, and they own it.

I want to keep this very, very clear.

Because then I can separate out the controversial and rebellious and gossipalicious aspects of Naomi being… Naomi and get right to the point.

There are people who send threats to women if they become visibly powerful.

There are people who will persist in ugliness and grow more dangerous over time in order to get those women to shut up, hide, and go away.

This is entirely their own responsibility.

There is nothing about the woman that is relevant. Whether she was nice. Whether she was a bitch. Whether she slept with six hundred people. Whether she is thin or fat. Whether she acted ethically or unethically.

Is your “Yeah, but…” turning up? Turn it off.

The personality and actions of any woman being subjected to these kinds of threats is irrelevant. She might murder kittens on her front lawn, it doesn’t matter.

There are people who send threats to women if they become visibly powerful.

Any kind of woman.

When we are responding to it, we must, MUST address the situation without any of the “Yeah, but…”.

Do not muddy the waters, and allow the Murderous Assholes to think that what they are doing is acceptable if only the woman in question is outspoken/unconventional/adulterous/whatever enough.

There is no justification that is acceptable for sending death threats. None.

There are people who send threats to women if they become visibly powerful.

And that will continue being acceptable for as long as we allow it to be.

What I’m going to do about it

I was playing around with my first website when Kathy Sierra shut down her site due to persistent and alarming death threats. I loved her site, and I was distraught both at the loss of her wisdom and what it meant for me as a budding online entrepreneur.

I knew that it might be a part of what was coming for me, and I decided then what I would do about it.


I would live my life and run my business the way I wanted to, and I would display my address and my phone number and anything else I wanted to, and fuck those assholes who might come at me.

My address is 354 Nursery Road, Holland Park, Queensland. If you’re coming from the city you’ll probably want to take the expressway and get off at the Marshall Road exit.

I completely and utterly refuse to hide.

I completely and utterly refuse to be less than myself because there are people around who may threaten me.

I own my actions, and my choice is to shine as bright as I can.

I feel compassion for the people who find that threatening. But I will still break their kneecaps if they come at me.

Here I am.


Consistent magnificence: the golden ticket

Tena at range
Feliks loved Sarah.

Sarah loved guns.

The old story.

It all begins at the local rifle range.

Feliks is there for the first time, with two boxes of .22 cartridges and his friend Dave. Dave has told him that he’s going to love the shooting, and Dave was right.

Feliks and Dave spend an hour target shooting paper targets with Dave’s Winchester bolt-action. When the boxes of rounds ran out, Feliks says, “I’ll buy some more.”

Dave says, “Are you sure, mate? I mean, they’re not super-pricy, but I figure your shoulder’s getting sore.”

It is, but Feliks says, “I’m having a blast. One more box.” Dave shrugs, and Feliks heads to the store.

And there is Sarah.

She’s chatting with the woman behind the counter as she checks a box of ammunition. She’s… arresting, with a pleasant, regular face lit up by fierce determination and intelligence.

Feliks is flat-out instantly mamapajama smitten. He says, “Hey. Buying some rounds for your handgun?”

She turns and with no expert superciliousness says, “Actually, these are for my shotgun.”

“But they’re tiny!” says Feliks, ready to say any number of inane things to keep the conversation with this bright fierce woman going. “I thought shotgun shells were… you know… big!”

Sarah smiles and tells him about how the rounds are actually .410 bore, and they’re used in skeet shooting competitions. Sarah competes, and she comes here every Tuesday to practice, and she’ll see Feliks around, maybe?

At least, that’s what Feliks reassembles later on about the conversation with the help of the woman behind the counter. It was a bit hard to concentrate at the time, you see.

So Feliks goes home and tells his family that he’s joining a rifle club.

His grandfather, Polish and scarred and romantic, threatens to disown him.

His grandmother, Polish and scarred and practical, tells him that she’s proud of him and bakes him lamingtons.

His Dad suspects a romance, and his mother says, “Why not?”

And so Feliks starts learning how to shoot. He stays on the targets, mastering the fundamentals, completely focussed except for the occasional break to wave nonchalantly at Sarah. (She’s around, but usually too busy to talk much. Feliks can remember every single, “Hey. Howareya?” she smiles at him.)

He shoots the paper targets, but his dream is to shoot the skeet.

He daydreams about it, imagines the clay disk shattering into twenty zillion pieces and Sarah running over to high-five him. Then, he suggests getting… an ice-cream! A coffee! A movie! A trip to Fiji! to celebrate, and in his dreams she always says Yes.

Feliks learns fast.

Feliks possesses natural talent, piles of determination, and regular lessons from his grandmother. (This last was a surprise: he had never been told that she was a freedom fighter in Poland during World War Two. Away from her glowering husband she tells Feliks astonishing stories about her work for the Armia Krajowa in between correcting his aim.)

(She also gives Sarah the once-over and decides she approves.)

With all these blessings, Feliks’ progress is astonishingly fast. In only two months, his grandmother says that he’s probably ready to try the skeet.

Sensibly, for despite the pangs of love Feliks is still a sensible lad, he starts on a day where Sarah isn’t present. The clay disk is flung into the air, and again and again and again he misses it.

He practices again next week and misses over and over, but his misses are closer. More practice and he feels that he wouldn’t be world-endingly embarassed to have Sarah see him.

She is only metres away when he successfully explodes his first clay skeet.

He turns to her, face alight, ready for the high-five-ice-cream-three-children daydream. She looks up, nods once, and goes back to cleaning her shotgun.

Feliks takes his grandmother out for ice-cream instead, and tries not to cry into his sundae.

It takes one scoop of time for Babcia Irena to realise that her grandson is less than perfectly elated by his success, and another half scoop to find out why.

Babcia Irena then laughs that wise and slightly malicious old lady cackle that all beings rightly fear.

“Fool boy! One success is not enough to impress her. You’ve missed hundreds of those things, and you could have hit that one by accident. Shoot ten in a row, then she’ll be impressed.”

Feliks nods judiciously, finishes his sundae, and readjusts his daydream.

Feliks keeps shooting at the skeets.

It’s a drizzly ordinary sort of day and he’s feeling a bit tired and not quite in the flow as a sequence of ten are flung.

He misses the first three, and then suddenly Feliks is in the zone.

One sharp crack as a clay disk shatters. Two. Threefour. Five. He misses the last one, and stares bemused at the pile of crockery.

And he turns, to find a beaming Sarah behind him.

You know how the rest of the story goes.

Everyone is magnificent sometimes.


And those occasional moments of magnificence get our attention, briefly.

What holds our attention is consistent magnificence.

Let me say that again:

Magnificence gets our attention. Consistent magnificence KEEPS our attention.

Not one amazing article: a series of amazing articles.

Not one mind-blowing testimonial: a flood of mind-blowing testimonials.

Not one engaging exchange on Twitter: a pattern of engaging exchanges on Twitter.

This is why I am so damn adamant about you only doing your best work.

It’s not because I don’t believe you are capable of producing magnificence from anything you put your mind to. You are. We both know it.

But consistent magnificence? That’s harder.

It means you have to deliver, and keep on delivering, remarkable results… no matter what is going on around you.

When it’s your best work, you can deliver consistent magnificence despite adverse conditions. You know: tech hiccups. Inadequate supplies. Pounding headache. Sick dog.

You’ll find a way to transcend these problems, or even create better work because of your limitations.

When it’s not your best work… magnificence becomes hit and miss. Damn good is likely, but magnificence will never be dependably delivered by your less-than-best work.

And that matters, big-time.

You will never develop the same powerful relationships and reputation with hit-and-miss magnificence that you will through consistent magnificence.

If we trust you to deliver magnificence, you have our attention – and our money. We will be riveted to see what you do next, whether you can possibly keep the amazingness flowing.

With your best work, the odds are excellent that the answer is yes.

Best work = consistent magnificence = squoodles of cash and joy.

I wonder if that’s what you’re aiming for.

Is your goal to knock it out of the park once?

Or is it to knock it out of the park every single day?

The first requires a surge of magnificence, of the creative genius that lives inside us all.

The second requires consistent magnificence, and creative discipline.

Which are you currently using? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

And if you’re ready to clarify what work is your absolute best, then Goddamn Radiant and I are here to help. Because this is MY bestest work.

Creative Commons License photo credit: kevindooley