Examining the Truth Behind Truisms

January 2, 2019 in
By Jessica Milloy

Here we go! We’re already off to the races on 2019, whether we are ready or not. As we start thinking ‘out with the old, in with the new’ and begin tossing bad habits, fashions, and questionable decisions, we wanted to give ourselves something fun, fresh, and hopeful to look forward to on these blog pages for the coming year.

As a quick refresher, we focused on organizational and individual resolutions to organize our 2018 blogs. This year, we wanted to delve into and explore the wisdom that underlies common phrases or truisms. By definition, a truism is a statement that is obvious in its truth, to the point that you don’t question the truth behind the saying, such as with ‘the apple never falls far from the tree’ or ‘look before you leap’. You could argue that these phrases don’t add anything new or interesting, but we still can’t seem to stop saying them. Maybe that’s because the truth is both important and sometimes easily taken for granted, to the point that we hold on to and use these sayings as a method of finding common understanding with other people- perhaps in a time when common ground can be difficult to find.

Regardless of why we hold on to and perpetrate truisms, social psychology would tell us that, to be a truism, people must have a high-level of agreement with a statement and not spend much time contemplating the evidence supporting that statement.[1] Wait, what?? That’s right, the idea is that you don’t spend time thinking about why a truism is true, but instead focus on the meaning and move forward to the point it illustrates. As Gregory Maio and James Olson contend ‘the widespread acceptance of truisms causes people to fail to build arguments supporting their views’ and that, frankly, seemed like something that was interesting and worth exploring further[2].

To do so, we’ve collected a number (12, actually) of truisms (or, in the parlance of consulting, clichés) and we’ll explore some of the truth, evidence, and arguments that support these sayings and beliefs. We’ll look at how these truisms support organizational health, functioning, and performance or, if we find evidence to the contrary, we’ll try to debunk them and force ourselves to question the logic behind these supposedly self-evident truths. Either way, it should be an interesting discussion that will help us cover a lot of ground, on topics about which we’re passionate.

We’re going to start the year off by examining the truism ‘an idiot with a plan can beat a genius without a plan’ and see if that’s true. As project managers and planners at heart, we’re pretty invested in this discussion- after all, what are our CMMI, PMP, and Agile certifications worth without this belief? (Don’t know what those process and project planning methodologies are? Don’t worry, we’ll explain this month.) So, sit back, enjoy, or contribute- we’re looking forward to starting this discussion off strong because a job worth doing is worth doing well, right?

About the Author: Outside Jess’ role as FMP’s Chief Operating Officer, she loves traveling (here in Rome near the Pantheon), working out, cooking, and wine. To reach out to the author directly, feel free to email jmilloy@fmpconsulting.com.


[1]McGuire, W. J. (1964). Inducing resistance to persuasion: Some contemporary approaches. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 191-229). New York: Academic Press.

[2]Maio, G. R., & Olson, J. M. (1998). Values as truisms: evidence and implications. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 294-311.