I originally formulated it in this way:
When a corporate executive makes a statement under pressure, pre-pending “Not” to any statement will get you closer to the truth that what is said.
It was designed to apply to statements like these: I am very confident about the prospects for our company in the coming year. I am excited about the challenges that lie ahead. There is no doubt that our product blows the competition away. This area represents a massive opportunity. The entire organization is connected by a common vision. The team is excited and engaged, and morale has never been better.
Of course, it applies more generally to leaders (and the rest of us…), as in statements like:
Peace in our time.
There is no alternative.
I am not a crook
I did not have sex with that woman.
George Bush II, who prides loyalty above all else, was the exception to this rule when he expressed his complete confidence in Donald Rumsfeld some months ago. Contrary to political custom, Rumsfeld was not fired shortly afterwards.
The Not Rule also applies to claims made about social trends. Because trends take so long to surface, they’re usually moot by the time debate about them becomes contentious. For example, the hue and cry over the lack of respect being paid to the Christian faith in America today obscures the fact that it wouldn’t be happening if Christianity were not so powerful. Likewise, breathless columnists are coming out in a cold sweat about jobs to be lost to India and China at exactly the time when those actually doing off-shoring have concluded that the process will take longer than expected.
To close, here’s a statement of my own: I am not a contrarian.