Brad Feld

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Trust But Verify

Nov 08, 2006

As I slowly work my way through State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III, the phrase “trust but verify” has appeared at least once.  Now that Rumsfeld is no longer Secretary of Defense, I guess I don’t have to finish the book.  However, the phrase jumped out at me after a conversation I had earlier this week with an entrepreneur that I’ve worked with in the past.

In the conversation, something came up that happened three years ago.  A third person made an attribution to the entrepreneur about me and a set of assumptions about what I was thinking at the time about the company’s situation.  These attributions came from a fourth person.  The entrepreneur processed this information, assumed it was true, and acted on it.

He never asked me about it.  He never confronted me about it.  He never questioned it.  We have a direct relationship – but I was entirely clueless that this was going on behind the scenes.  As a result of this information, the entrepreneur set off a chain of events based on the conclusions he had drawn.

His conclusion was wrong.  His assumption was wrong.  The data being attributed to me and my behavior was wrong. Fortunately, the outcome of the situation resolved appropriately independent of the bad assumptions. However, a lot of time and energy was wasted by several people – although – ironically – not by me.  It all might have been avoided if the entrepreneur had simply confronted me with “hey Brad – I just heard this – is it true?  Can you explain what’s going on and what you are thinking?”

I literally just found out about this earlier this week.  It caught me completely off guard – it was too long ago for me to remember whether I was aware of any “noise in the system”, but I don’t recall noticing anything. 

Trust, but verify.