The loss of the critical mind and how to regain it – A 6 steps approach


Did you read about the Internet Explorer hoax? Where IE users where made to be less intelligence than those who used other browsers?

The post when they understood it was a hoax.

The NextWeb interview with the group behind the hoax.

There are several issues here; one is the fact that respected brand like BBC posted the story at all. Another is the fatigue even experts have when it comes to commenting on online articles.

Those who knows those who want to know and those who claim they know

There are three kinds of people out there. Those who really know something about a subject, those who claim that they know something about the subject and those who want to know something about the subject.

The problem for those for those who need to know is that it’s often difficult to separate the rotten apples in the basket. A good example is a post about AVE:

There was a short post named “Advertising vs. PR: How to measure the value of editorial coverage” on Regan.com in the beginning of April this year. The post was a tribute to the use of AVE as a good measuring of PRs ROI. I honestly think that the only reason why this post got so many comments was not the content of the post itself (most enlightened people would just laugh reading it and move on), but because of the first comment. The first comment was from a student and included the sentence: “I have been taking PR and Ad classes for 3 years now, and this article has taught me more than most of my professors have”.

This sparked a well-formulated response from Sean Williams of the Institute for PR Commission on Research, Measurement and Evaluation. And this again started a rush of negative responses towards the article. So reading the post gives you one picture, but reading the comments gives you a contrary view of the world. And its first when you read them both you get the full picture. Follow up story on the AVE

It really has to do with trust. When a respected provider like BBC or Ragan (PR Daily) run an article you often have enough respect for the brand/publisher that you tend to trust the content.

This is of course the first mistake you do….

When a scientist publish a paper many others in the field attacks the research with different views. And it’s only when you read them both you get an accurate picture to help you make up your mind.

Here are some advices in how to obtain as balanced information as possible:

1. Use common sense and be critical

  • Simple but true. If you get the feeling that something is missing or not right, it’s often the case.

2. Look at the author

  • Is this a private post or is the author writing on behalf of a company? What’s the author’s background? In my experience the conclusion to an issue from an “expert” in a certain field is often colored by their field of expertise. This is not necessarily a problem but gives a better understanding of how the author reached the conclusion. And might help you in step 3…

3. Have a critical sense when reading the conclusion

  • Do more than one (Google) search, search for contradictory conclusions to gain a better understanding of the topic. We prefer speed more than accuracy, and if the conclusion makes sense to us its easier to accept. But tat is the worst trap for getting our critical brain back…

4. Check the date

  • Is this an old post or is it reasonable new? In a field like marketing things have a way of changing rather fast.

5. What is the target group for the post?

  • Where was the content published? A personal blog or was it posted on a webpage for SMB marketing?

6. Read the comments, if any

  • The more comments the better. Again you should use time to check the background of the one who posts the comments.

Response fatigue

There was a post about “social media fatigue” by Chris Brogan a while back. I think there also is a fatigue responding to all the articles out there. I see three reasons for this:

  1. There are so many posts, even within a narrow field, that using time reading them and commenting is overwhelming. So even if you do not agree with the post you probably won’t post a comment about it.
  2. The fright of getting attacked for posing an alternative view. Most of us prefer to be liked so exposing our self to an attack because of something we write is not our first priority.
  3. We are unsure about our ability about the topic. There are few real experts out there so we get reluctant to post a comment because of our fear that we do not know enough.

Conclusion

Well, first of all… Don’t take my word for it! There is tons of literature out there about how to search for information with a critical sense. Most Business schools and universities have short courses about how to do it.

My hope with this is that if you are out there searching for information on a topic, don’t go with the first article you find, even if it’s confirming what you thought in the first place. Go through the pain of getting outside your comfort zone and search for opposite arguments or thoughts. If you do, at least you can build a list of arguments supporting your view and get ahead of those who will question your decisions…

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