Tag Archives: advice

Can We Distinguish Fact From Fiction?

How good are you at distinguishing fact from fiction? As I’ve written before, I think that is one of the two most important things anyone can learn in their professional (and personal) lives, with the ability to express your thinking clearly orally and in writing being the other. The folks over at The Pew Research Center studied whether members of the public can recognize news as factual – something that’s capable of being proved or disproved by objective evidence – or as an opinion that reflects the beliefs and values of whoever expressed it. The results aren’t particularly surprising but they also are a good reminder to any of us in business.

First, the results. I’m summarizing here but you really should read the entire study – it’s fascinating and gets to a lot of what’s going on in the country today:

The main portion of the study, which measured the public’s ability to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinion statements, found that a majority of Americans correctly identified at least three of the five statements in each set. But this result is only a little better than random guesses. Far fewer Americans got all five correct, and roughly a quarter got most or all wrong. Even more revealing is that certain Americans do far better at parsing through this content than others. Those with high political awareness, those who are very digitally savvy and those who place high levels of trust in the news media are better able than others to accurately identify news-related statements as factual or opinion…Republicans and Democrats were more likely to classify both factual and opinion statements as factual when they appealed most to their side.

In other words, confirmation bias comes in quite a bit of the time.  I raise this because I think it happens all the time in business as well. We receive data that doesn’t support the direction in which we’re taking the business but we reject it as biased. We get complaints from customers but dismiss them as opinion even when there are facts to support the customer’s unhappiness. It all comes back to what the study measured – many of us can’t distinguish fact from fiction.

We need to pay attention to the source of what we’re hearing. Does the data come from an unbiased, third party or is it an opinion? Is the person who is telling you something doing so based on first-hand experience or are they just repeating something they’ve heard elsewhere? Do multiple sources independently report the same information (not quoting one another, in other words) or are you basing a business decision on a single source? If you’ve spent any time in business, you know that even “trusted” sources – your analytics, your financial reports and others – can be manipulated. Always seek the unvarnished, fact-based truth and learn to ignore opinion unless it’s labeled as such. It’s hard to do that, but you’re up to the task, right?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?, Reality checks

Help Wanted

It’s June, the month of newly-minted college graduates entering the workforce. There will be a fair amount of job-seeking going on and today I want to spend a minute to reflect on a few things I’ve learned over the years both about finding a job and filling one.

First, finding one. Obviously, the way the job market works has changed since I graduated college several decades ago. Job websites and LinkedIn didn’t exist and the process is way more efficient now. The problem is that so has the nature of work because business itself has been reshaped. The disintermediation of almost everything has meant the nature of hiring needs has changed. Retail jobs have moved from store clerks to engineers who help with online inventory management, customer experience, and other jobs that didn’t exist in the retail sector back in the day. Ride-sharing has created a different sort of cab driver (a popular job for many when we couldn’t get other work), one that doesn’t require a hack license but does require that you have access to a car.

What hasn’t changed about looking for that entry-level job is that you need to have a willingness to do damn near anything. My first job was making slides for presentations at a trade group. Yes, I was an honors graduate with degrees in English and Education and I had no interest in making slides: I wanted to write. I also wanted to eat and to get my foot in the door. I’m always surprised when I talk with a young person who feels many entry jobs are beneath them.

The other thing that hasn’t changed, and this applies to both sides of the hiring desk, is the skills required. I always looked for people who were smart, who could express that intelligence both orally and in the written communication we had, and who seemed like self-starters. Those candidates are the ones who will learn on the job and perform, and I have many examples of that in my hiring. I’d add to the list that the candidate should be able to handle disruptions well. Every business has been or will be disrupted and, therefore, the nature of every job will change as well. Society and business are constantly getting more efficient – more things will be available to more people for lower overall costs – so the hiring and job-seeking processes need to mirror that. Does yours?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, What's Going On

Bourdain

This is a tough way to end our week with a food-related post here on Foodie Friday. As you’ve probably heard by now, Anthony Bourdain committed suicide in his Paris hotel room yesterday. For those of us who loved his use of food as a way to explore and understand this world of ours, it’s a massive loss. Sure, there are other programs that attempt to do what he did, but none as literate nor as beautifully executed.

The question to which we’ll never have an answer is “why.” Here is a person who seemingly “had it all” despite rough patches in his life: drug addiction and failed marriages among them. His successes should have outweighed his failures and yet something inside him made him end it all.

I’ve written before on suicide. Back in 2015, a friend of mine killed himself. His life had spiraled downhill physically, financially, and personally. It was a lot easier to grasp why he did what he did than it is with Bourdain. In that post, I quoted something I had written 2 years prior and I want to state it again:

We all know a person who displays symptoms of things not being right in their lives. Those symptoms could come in the form of substance abuse or a big weight gain. Maybe their personality has changed – gone from light to dark. If you care about that person, you probably think about a way to say something that asks about what’s going on. It’s hard – people have feelings, after all and they are probably just as aware as you are of what they’re doing. Probably more so.  The ensuing discussion can be hard for both of you.  Sometimes it can derail a friendship.  More often, it begins a healing process, but only if you care enough to say something.

I don’t know if those closest to Tony knew he had a darkness overcoming his light. Maybe you do know someone who has that issue. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is  1-800-273-8255. They also have live chat. Help your friend get help.

I’ll miss Bourdain’s acerbic insights. I’ll miss the snarky personality that contrasted with his big heart. Both came through loud and clear in his work. What didn’t, neither in his work nor, it seems, in his friendships, was something fundamentally wrong that drove him to something this desperate. He once said:

“We ask very simple questions: What makes you happy? What do you eat? What do you like to cook? And everywhere in the world we go and ask these very simple questions,” he said, “we tend to get some really astonishing answers.”

Maybe someone should have asked him, particularly the first one.

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

What Are Your Limits?

What can’t you do? If you’re a child of my children‘s generation, you’ve probably been told since you were born that you can do anything. You have no limits. Does anyone really believe that’s true – that there isn’t anything we can’t do if we try really hard and practice a lot?

As you know if you’ve spent any time in this space, I play golf. I’m not horrible at it although I’m far from really good. I do practice and I might just try too hard. That said, there are shots I just can’t hit and never will be able to despite knowing how to do so and practicing them (you go ahead and hit that 225-yard shot over water and a bunker into a tight pin on a narrow green without landing in trouble).

Knowing your limits is important both in life and in business. We all want to help the team but learning to say “no” when you’re asked to take on more work than you can possibly do well really IS helping. Everyone hits the wall at some point and taking on too many projects or work that you’re not qualified to do well is a great way to hit it bang on.

Many ski areas have signs that remind you to ski within your limits. There is a sign at Bethpage Black, a golf course which has hosted the U.S. Open, that, in essence, asks you to know your limitations as a golfer and respect them.

Many people want to learn and to grow. Most people want to take on a new challenge. While you do need to push your limits to do this, at the same time, you need to be conscious of your abilities and approach any new goals appropriately. In golf or skiing, we can take lessons. How many businesspeople invest in courses to improve their skills?

In skiing and riding, we wear protective gear. The problem is that sometimes we get a false sense of security and push too far. In business, we rely on data from dodgy sources or only those surveys that tell us what we want to hear to give us that same false sense. Instead of recognizing the limits of the information, we believe it.

I’ve been playing the guitar since I was 10. I still can’t play like Clapton or Page despite well over 10,000 hours of practice. It may be some sort of physical ability I don’t have which they do. Then again, I probably have some mental abilities that have let me learn many skills they don’t have. Learning what you can and can’t do even with practice, instruction, and perseverance is key, and accepting those limitations, disheartening as it can be, can help make you better, not worse. Does that make sense?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Well Aren’t You Special

I came across a quote in a report that prompted a thought about one thing I think has gone wrong in many of our businesses. Actually, it’s less about the businesses themselves and more about those of us who operate them. The study was GroupM’s annual “State Of Digital” report which I always find very informative. The quote is this:

In a statement, GroupM global CEO Kelly Clark listed automation and talent as the “big themes in advertising’s current revolution.” “One of the downsides of specialization is the increase in specialists who know more and more about less and less,” Clark said in the statement.

That’s a big problem in my eyes, and it’s not limited to the ad business.  Let me explain why, both from a personal and a professional point of view. First the personal. It’s great if you become the “go to” person on a very narrow subject. You may know a particular operating system inside and out or you may be the country’s leading subject matter expert on something else. That’s fantastic as long as nothing changes. What happens when it does? You just might have to start over if your particular, narrow skill set is no longer in demand. If you do one thing very well but no one needs that one thing, then what?

From a business perspective, having a team of specialists who can’t crossover is equally bad. Their siloed skills make cross-functional conversation difficult if not impossible. You want a team that has flexibility. Putting aside the ability to cover for other team members during vacations or peak demand periods in some area, having people with a broader knowledge base makes for a better product. Having multiple people weigh in who can consider the big picture and not just a slice of things makes for coherent, complete, well thought out solutions.

It’s incumbent on each of us to grow our skill set. In my practice, I’m called upon to provide thinking on everything from strategy to analytics to SEO to sales. Each of those is an area of specialization for some people and I know I might not be as well-versed in each of them as some of those specialists. What I do have, however, is a broad perspective (to go along with my broad experience) that lets me guide my clients. I have very deep knowledge in some areas and shallower in others. Not specializing makes me special!

If you’re not learning, if you’re not widening your range of knowledge beyond your specialty, then you’re probably setting yourself up to be less resilient when the need arises. That’s not good business thinking, is it?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

But You Got To Have Friends

According to Facebook, I have 388 friends. One very social member of my family has over 1,300. I suspect that in her case, and I’m quite sure that in mine, that some of those “friends” couldn’t pick you out of a lineup, so one might speculate as to how real the friendship is.

There is a much easier and yet way harsher method for figuring out the whole friendship thing. First, ask yourself who routinely interacts with you off social media. Then ask yourself of that group who does so when they don’t need anything from you. After that, you can ask yourself who from that much smaller group will return your call when YOU need something and, even more importantly, who will actually help you. We’re now approaching your real friend count.

Here is the good news. You don’t really need all that many friends. This report from AOL.com goes back to 2016:

According to new research, you only need five friends in your life. British psychologist, Robin Dunbarm breaks down our friendships into layers.

The top layer consists of a spouse or best friend that you interact with daily. The next includes up to four people — that you care about and require weekly attention to maintain the relationship. The layers after that are made up of mere acquaintances.

Why the rant about friendship today? Because those few real friends are the key to your business success. They provide two of the parts of Maslow’s Hierarchy that allow you to function productively. They are your sounding board. They can, as they have in my case, help you grow your business by providing contact with potential clients (every client I’ve ever had, save for one, is as a result of a friendship, either directly or indirectly).

The Michael Corleone character in The Godfather says “My father taught me many things here — he taught me in this room. He taught me — keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” I get his meaning – understand those who would do you harm and pay constant attention to them – but I disagree about the closer part. Find your few true friends, both inside and outside of business, and pay them as much attention as you do anything. Your business will benefit and so will you. Make sense?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Engineers And Lawyers

Techcrunch published a piece yesterday that caught my attention because I think it hits a proverbial nail right on the head. It dealt with the topic of fake news but I think it has important things to say to any of us in business as well. To quote the piece, “The real problem isn’t fake news; it’s that people have given up on that search for truth.” It’s a topic we’ve touched on here many times but I really like how the author – Jon Evans – explains to two different mentalities under which many of us operate these days.

I still tend to come at the world with what he calls an engineer’s mentality. I look at the information in front of me, seek out as much new information as I can, and adjust my thinking even if what I find contradicts what I believed previously. Whether you think of that as an engineer or a scientist or just being an adult, it seemed as if most of the people I knew operated under a similar paradigm.

He goes on to make the point that most people today operate instead with a lawyer’s mentality. You pick a side (generally based upon who is your client!), and then sort through all the available information, picking and choosing that which supports your side while discarding (at best) or belittling (at worst) that which doesn’t. In other words, many of us approach the world with what can be a fatal case of confirmation bias.

Many of my closest friends in the world are lawyers. In their personal lives, most of them actually tend not to bring their professional mentality to their personal thinking. That said, what’s wrong with the lawyer’s point of view? Simple. That one-sided analysis of the “facts” will be offset in front of a decision-maker – a judge and/or jury – by the other, equally biased set of facts presented by the opposing counsel. In business (and life), we generally have to weigh ALL the information ourselves and do the best we can with respect to sorting out the truth or the best course of action. We need to be our own opposing counsel if you will.

We need to think like scientists. It’s fine to have a point of view or an initial hypothesis, but we really need to apply the scientific method in our business laboratories and validate our thinking. Not all data are meaningful or even truthful. Neither are all the things we hear from coworkers. Do your research, form your own opinions. Given where we are as a country, it might not hurt each of us to think about our thinking and how we go about forming our non-business opinions too, don’t you think?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks