"It must be true! I saw it on the internet!" Ten words that sum up a fallacy that blinds so many people into believing almost anything.
The power of the web as an informer of mistruth is not to be underestimated. Urban legends, misquotes, and photoshopped pictures flood social media in a never ending stream of digital fabrications. The sad thing is that many of them are often provoking and inspiring, but have either no reality or a semi-reality basis.
Take this story for example. There was a study done at Harvard between 1979 and 1989. Graduates of the MBA programme were asked; "Have you set clear written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?"
The results of that question were: Only 3 percent had written goals and plans, 13 percent had goals but not in writing, 84 percent had no specific goals at all.
Ten years later Harvard interviewed the members of that class again and found: The 13 percent who had goals but not in writing were earning on average twice as much as the 84 percent of those who had no goals at all. The 3 percent who had clear, written goals were earning on average 10 times as much as the other 97 percent of graduates all together. The only difference between the groups is the clarity of the goals they had for themselves.
If you have done any reading of self-help or goal setting guides you have probably come across this information before. There is just one problem: the study does not exist. FastCompany.com looked into it over a decade ago and discovered that no study was done at that time. Yet it still does the rounds.
Fortunately other real research has since indicated a link between goal setting and success so don't give up on writing goals down.
Truth, it seems, is so hard to come by in a world where information abounds more than ever. I remember walking into a medical museum once and seeing an exhibit on the scams and quackery that existed in the Victorian era and thinking "Wow nothing has changed".
In business you are likely to face two instances where you cannot see the truth. The first is the classic scam, the second is when you blind yourself to the truth that something is not going to work out and go on blindly.
Scams can often be recognised by requiring up-front payments for something that should not need one.
I was looking into self publishing and came across a website that promised to act as an agent for me. I would just need to pay them an agent fee and they would find a publishing company for my work. A bit of research revealed that in the literary world agents do not charge you a fee but take a commission on your royalties.
What is more legitimate websites now exist that will publish your work electronically and distribute it for you on all e-platforms. The site was a scam that preyed on inexperienced authors.
Worse than the scam though is the self blindness that keeps you stuck in a self-created mistruth that a deal is worth pursuing because it sounds so good. The deal may not be a scam, there are real products to be traded in, but the end result is the same - a painful loss. Here are a few signs that can keep your eyes open to the truth.
There is a limited amount of information available and the other party is hesitant to give you what you need. Ian Altman of the Huffington Post describes it this way; "In movies, before someone gets executed, they give them a cigarette, a blindfold, and ask for a last request. If the other party puts you in a situation where you feel like you are blindfolded, a pack of cigarettes might not be far away . . . Unless you are a bottle of wine, you should not agree to be left in the dark."
If the relationship sucks on a deal then you should probably abandon it. If you find that you are being treated as adversaries rather than partners then walk away.
Finally the "why" and "how" need to be answered clearly. Poorley defined objectives can destroy the best looking deal. Ask why you are doing the deal and ask how will you measure success or delivery. Failure to have these down clearly will keep you meandering along a mediocre path and create a whole lot of frustration and relationship ruining tension.
While this article has focused on having a good degree of scepticism, in order to keep your faith in humanity alive I want to leave you with an excerpt from the film "Secondhand Lions" in which an elderly Uncle Hub is lecturing his nephew about everything a man needs to know.
"Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good. That honour, courage and virtue mean everything; that power and money . . . money and power mean nothing. That good always triumphs over evil. And I want you to remember this, that love, true love never dies !
Remember that boy, remember that. Doesn't matter if it is true or not, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in. Got that ?"
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