Blog: The New York Times Test

Over twenty years ago, a mentor of mine gave me some advice that I have never forgotten; I call it the “New York Times Test.”  He declared his expectation that anything he said, wrote or did could end up in the New York Times one day, and he used that as a guide and to only say, write and do things that he would be proud of when they appeared on the front page.

I first used this when going to a conference in Las Vegas with a group of sales people.  The day before we left, we had an organizational meeting; who was manning the booth when, our strategy for getting leads, etc.  Before we concluded the meeting I gave them the “New York Times Test” lecture.  Short and sweet – remember that anything you do can and will show up on the front page.  Use that to guide your actions.  The conference was a success, and we had no incidents.

For the last 20 years, I have been using this with employees, entrepreneurs that I mentor, and even my teenage children.  Unfortunately, there are some other people who have not used this filter, and recently a handful of folks from our industry have literally ended up in the New York Times for their actions.  It is sad to see at so many levels.  It is shocking that this activity has been happening. It is upsetting for me to contemplate what some of the victims of this activity have had to endure.  I hate the black mark it is leaving on the tech industry as a whole.  I wish more people knew about the New York Times Test and used it.

The beauty of this framework is that you are not telling people how to act, you are not telling them what is right and what is wrong.  You are just asking them to be responsible for their own actions and only do those things that they would be proud of. There is very little for people to object to when you deliver the advice, but it truly does provide a framework for them to make conscious decisions about their actions and how they affect others and how they will be perceived.  If you would not want it published for the world to see, you probably should not be doing it…

I never thought I would be writing about actually seeing people be embarrassed by their actions as described in the New York Times, but if this is what it takes for change to happen, then so be it.  We all, each and every one of us, need to be responsible for our actions and how they impact others.  We live in an information age where nothing is secret or private anymore. 

Assume that every word and action you take will be public, and act accordingly.