What can we do, as an individuals, to better focus on seeking truth?
There are many simple things we can all do to become better truth-driven thinkers, and to help spread the benefits of overcoming hard-wired personality and emotion-driven tendencies that prevent us from maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain.
Here are the specific actions covered in Steve's book Truth-Driven Thinking, directly from the table of contents:
Ask yourself, “Does it appear that there are reasonable, thoughtful, educated and honest people on both sides of this issue?”
If so, and you believe one side passionately - this might be a red flag that: A) The issue is more COMPLEX than you understand. B) YOU may be OVERSIMPLIFYING the issues. or C) You simply haven’t listened to the most articulate and sincere spokesperson the other side has to offer.
Some things ARE black and white. More often though, especially where two widely held, opposing views collide, lack of a personal struggle over the issue probably means we’re not working hard enough to fully understand the other viewpoints.
The book begins with a question, “Can you handle the truth?” Often, we need to start with that gut check. And a great way to do so is to reference my Law of Increasing Knowledge, introduced in the chapter on root causes of poor reasoning. It's simply this. Ask yourself, “If I sought out the brightest, most knowledgeable, articulate and honest spokespeople on the other side of this issue, and had months or years to work side-by-side with them, and to fully study and become AN EXPERT IN THIS FIELD MYSELF; is it possible that my views might change from where they are today?"
If you think your views would in fact modify, than what you are admitting is that you don't have complete and total knowledge. In fact, you're essentially admitting that to some degree or another, what you believe today could be WRONG. And as Artemus Ward said, sometimes it's not what we know that gets us into the most trouble, its what we know that just isn't so!
Okay, don’t panic. We’re not going to hold hands and start singing “Kumbayah.” Just bear with me for a second because I know what you’re thinking. How many times have our parents or those who care about us told us to be true to ourselves? And what does that mean anyway? Well I honestly never knew what that meant until undertaking this work over the last several years. But now, I honestly think I get it. Being true to everyone else is relatively easy. It’s being true to ourselves, about our fears, angers, hurts, motives, agendas, and prejudices that can be toughest of all. And that reality means we can deceive ourselves by way of our lack of self-awareness.
So here are a couple of questions you can ask yourself to do a gut-check on being true to yourself:
- When making a decision, consciously ask yourself from 1-10 how emotionally skewed or wrapped up in this decision you are. Per the quote from the Amazing Randi, how much do you “need” to have, absolutely have to have this be true in order for it to jive with who you are, your friends, or the image you have of what makes your life meaningful?
- Ask yourself, “What baggage may be influencing me emotionally?” Is it possible I’m burying my head in the sand? What if I’m wrong – what is it that I’m afraid of? What’s the worst thing that can happen?
If you hear the word conspiracy, understand that it probably is NOT ONE. - It is far easier to allege a conspiracy than it is to create and keep one secret. - Somebody always talks or slips up. - The bigger the claim, the more unlikely the conspiracy! And yes, this applies in the workplace as well.
Traditional, academic approaches to “critical thinking” have half the right answer. While the “just be rational” message may fail to address the real human, emotion-driven factors that can affect the most rational of us, it is important to think critically and logically. Be intellectually honest. Be aware of common reasoning errors in everyday life.
We probably don’t need to know the technical names of each fallacy, but we probably should be able to see the flaws when they crop up:
- Red herrings (irrelevant - If it walks like a duck… Where there’s smoke there’s fire)
- Ad-hominem attacks (personal attacks - “Sounds like something a rich person would say.” Or, “That coming from a bean counter”)
- Authority errors (implying he’s an authority so you cannot question him. Remember Carl Sagan’s comment that “There are no experts.”)
- Straw man arguments (constructing a false argument, shooting it down, and saying you therefore shot down the original premise). - Appeal to popularity (“Seventy-three percent of people believe this so you should too.” Remember, conventional wisdom is not always wise)
- Begging the Question (circular reasoning)
So be aware of errors in logic and reasoning. They are important, and are 50% of the battle.
In the interest of space, we won't detail the explanations here, but suffice to say that statistics are widely misused in business and in broader media. Here are the highlight tips:
- Correlation is not causation. Just because two things are linked or appear to happen together, doesn't mean one causes the other. This error is common in modern reporting, as well as business analysis. (See funny video example on the book web site!)
- One, two or three points of data do not make a trend. This error is very common in business, where we so desperately want to see trends in order to predict the future. It's great that you measure things, but please be careful in assuming trends. In general, it takes six data points of clear direction to make a trend. There is variation in almost any process you can measure.
- Watch raw numbers vs. percentages. People will report the one that best fits their agenda.
- Averages are overplayed! Averages in fact tell us very little. They tell us that someone knows how to cut a group in half. That's about it.
Don’t LET YOUR SELF WORTH OR EGO BECOME DEPENDENT UPON BEING “RIGHT”! If being right is a fundamental motive, and a key to how you view yourself, truth will become subject to your ego, and you will be susceptible to emotion-driven errors. Value that you’re a person of character interested in truth. (see Pledge for Truth on the book web site)
It’s my theory that when one errs too far in the direction of cynicism or trust, problems arise. In fact at the extremes, I believe that trusting too much, or being too cynical both approach the state of mind characterized by psychological issues.
Think about our favorite novel that gets adapted to the silver screen! How disappointing is that? It is very difficult to do justice to a book when adapting it to film. The medium is simply limited! This illustrates the importance of reading. While we love sound bites and visual media, the reality is that we oversimplify complex issues, and simple solutions usually don't work for complex problems. And the only way to really understand issues, is to get in depth. That requires reading.
So my advice is to read. If you already read a great deal – wonderful. While you’re at it, try one of the books from the recommended reading list on this web site!
Push come to shove, this is probably the toughest strategy to execute, yet it is critically important. While there are some who won’t even listen to both sides of a record (remember those?), you and I have an obligation NOT to seek out only information sources that throw us what we want to hear, but to open our minds to new information and to other points of view. While this probably makes sense at face value, it is extremely difficult for most of us to do.
You see it is our nature to want to hear and listen to people who agree with us. It is our nature to seek news and information that affirms who we are and what we stand for.
We simply must seek “Pro” and “Con” voices to get balance. If you only hang out solely in the executive suite, or at the union hall, it'll be hard to really "hear" the merits of both sides and to achieve mutual understanding. In the political spectrum, the same is true. I always say that if you subscribe to Salon or Mother Jones, consider getting National Review or Rush Limbaugh’s newsletter. If you watch Fox, consider CNN. If you saw Michael Moore’s Farenheit 911, watch Dick Morris’ Farenhype 911
One of the best ways to learn, and place your self in another person’s pair of shoes, is to take the other side, and actively argue it as genuinely as possible. The greatest thinkers, business negotiators, and statesmen in the world make genuine efforts to become better at arguing the other side than the opposition.
Pick up a book on professional negotiation and you will see this is universal advice. Doing so not only helps you to avoid unnecessarily “owning” the issue emotionally, it helps you learn and HEAR what the others are saying. And you never know, you may persuade yourself.
In all cases, it will make you a better and more powerful negotiator or spokesperson for your view; it is very disarming if you state the other side’s case better than they do, and can then turn around and explain why the logic falls short. The best negotiators will tell you that if you cannot argue the other side as convincingly as the most eloquent of those who hold opposing viewpoints, you have work to do.
The greater the claim of impending doom and destruction, the more we need to ensure the facts support the proposed action – plain and simple. In everyday life, people love to shout gloom and doom predictions – in the media and in their personal conversations. But the problem is that nobody ever takes the time to go back and see just how many turn out to be wrong! There is rarely any serious repercussion or accountability to those who repeatedly say the sky is falling, no matter how many times they do it. This is true in business and in life, and I give some good examples in the book.
One of the things you can do is pay attention to the credibility of your sources. Again, Carl Sagan himself taught us that, “There are NO experts.” The fact is that anyone can claim anything is “scientifically proven.” It happens all the time. (Keep in mind that Skepticism is different than cynicism.)
Perspective is one of my favorite words in the English language, it is the topic of the final chapter in the book. It is the companion of truth that can so easily get lost in the shuffle.
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