23 Feb 2019 19:31 IST

What is the difference between a fact and a truth?

Successful managers take decisions on truthful facts and that is why such decisions yield good results

A recent post on a social media platform raised a question on the difference between a ‘fact’ and ‘truth’. The point of discussion was whether they are the same or, if not, what is the difference.

I added to the discussion by drawing an example from the Mahabharata, when Yudhishtira is asked to say something with an intent to confuse the enemy. He was supposed to say, “Ashwathama is dead”. As Ashwathama is Dronacharya’s son, this statement was expected to leave him grief stricken and, therefore, vulnerable to attack. Yudhishtira does not agree to do this, till an elephant by the same name is killed. After which Yudhishtira says loudly that Ashwathama is dead and adds, in a whisper, that it is the elephant. However, no one heard the whisper and, as expected, Drona is killed as he puts down his arms in grief.

The statement, ‘Ashwathama is dead’ is a fact. However, it is not the truth in the context of when it is said. The truthful statement would have been, ‘An elephant named Ashwathama is dead’.

Spotting facts

It is important for corporate professionals to develop the capability to spot facts that may not be the truth. This is critical as decisions are based on the available factsthat are presented and discussed. However, what if the facts being presented were not truthful or were half-truths? That would make the decisions flawed.

A typical example in a corporate or business context pertains to any discussion about numbers during a review or a planning session. Imagine a situation where a 100 per cent growth in results is presented by a person. By itself, this is a fact. But, if the earlier result was zero and the present result is just one, it would still be a 100 per cent growth but hardly worthy of praise or even discussion.

You might think that this example is an exaggeration or even unlikely to happen in the real world. Let me give you an example from the real world. Media reports used to highlight a new business sector that had seen a phenomenal growth rate of over 50 per cent on an annualised basis. By itself, this sound fantastic and anyone interested in investing in new businesses would consider this sector. However, this sector’s contribution to the overall industry of the same nature was hardly 1 per cent. In that context, the percentage growth suddenly becomes unattractive.

Digging deep

As future managers, you will often be presented with facts that are prima facie valid. However, a discerning manager will dig deeper to ascertain whether it is also the truth or not. In that context, start developing the acumen to differentiate between fact and truth, and the ability to dig deeper and go beyond prima facie factual details.

Simply put, successful managers and leaders take decisions on truthful facts, and that is why these decisions are usually sound ones and yield good results.