Author Greg Mortenson, who sold a zillion copies of his book, Three Cups of Tea, is now accused by television’s 60 Minutes and by others of fabricating the main elements of his book. It didn’t happen that way, the records purport to show, and thus the entire house of cards upon which his book is based is beginning to teeter. I hear that he’s denying the allegations and will comment soon.
I have no opinion as to whether all this is true or false, having a less than complete and whole respect for 60 Minutes in the first place. I’m not privy to the documents. I haven’t even read the book.
But I can tell you this much and it’s an important point: If you’re building a platform for your business on anything less than solid ground, the world is going to get you.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this story. Oprah had another author in the spotlight a year or so ago, James Frey, whose A Million Little Pieces turned out to be “fake but accurate.” It didn’t end well for him, either.
I don’t know why this happens. Is the race for fame and instant riches so powerful a gravitational pull that we abandon our moral balance so quickly? (Answer: yes, in many instances). Do we really think we can get away with it? (Answer: yes, in many instances).
When I wrote Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath In Your Industry, I can tell you with 100% certainty that I conducted every interview in the book. There were 72 of them, by last count. Two – the interviews with Geoff Ross, founder of 42Below vodka, and design icon Karim Rashid – were done via email because of time and travel constraints. The other 70 were done on the phone, each recorded and saved multiple times to internal, external and cloud-based drives.
When 60 Minutes knocks on my door, I’ll be ready. Hell, I’ll be ready for 70 Minutes. I’m good for whatever they throw at me.
I’ve been asked if I based my book on or liberally borrowed from any one of a number of previously written books, sometimes in an accusing way. Want to know the truth? The two books that are the closest matches to Killing Giants are The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and Joost Elfers and Working by Studs Terkel. I wish I could claim that Killing Giants borrows from Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces, perhaps the single best volume on the Hero Myth in the English language, but I wouldn’t dare force the comparison out of the respect I have for the author and his remarkable book. I haven’t read any of the other books on this subject and I’m really surprised that so little has been written on this subject.
I wrote an email earlier today to my list describing how a friend of mine sent me 20 of my own books so I could inscribe them to his 20 biggest customers, using this as a relationship builder and conversation starter. I think this is a brilliant idea (I’m somewhat biased, of course) and I said so. Would I fabricate a story like this? Would it be worth it to me? In the immediate short term, possibly. A few people may take me up on a similar idea and I’d probably sell a few more books and get a speaking gig or two. In the long term, it wouldn’t – for all the obvious reasons that I don’t need to elaborate on here.
In closing, know this: your best work is going to come from your truths. “Give them what they expect, just not how they expect to get it,” Robert McKee told us in his excellent book, Story. Your story will be like that because no matter what you’re writing about – or building your business upon – it will be shot through your filter, seen through your lens, colored with your experiences, told in your unique voice.
Just be damned sure that you’re telling the truth. Because if you’re not, the world is going to find you. And it won’t be pretty when they do.