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Thursday, October 6, 2016

I Prefer to Deal with Facts

Today’s world is full of talking heads, all professing some degree of expertise across a wide range of issues. What seems to get lost is a solid understanding of the facts and how to deal with hard evidence in a meaningful way. Part of the problem is that facts are dry and boring, not very appealing to a mass audience thirsting for entertainment. And needless to say, many media sources fuel the problem by elevating extreme viewpoints to obtain ratings.

Additionally, facts can be very disturbing or threatening, forcing dramatic change on people. This can invoke denial of the facts, giving the person a convenient way of not having to change. It can also encourage “cherry-picking” of the facts from less than authoritative sources to accommodate one’s own self-interest.  

If you look at the best companies in the world, such as General Electric, it’s all about the facts and analytics. Decision making is rooted in evidence from reliable and trusted sources that have strong authority on the subject. For example, obtaining facts from third party independent sources is often more reliable than sources that have a vested interest in a decisions outcome. This is important since opinions seem to dominate the air waves, often ignoring facts from the best sources.  

Let’s look at an issue where facts have become distorted – climate change. Several authoritative sources, ranging from NASA to the Union of Concerned Scientist have all concluded that man-made activities are contributing to the warming of our planet. Needless to say, we are hearing a wide range of opinions especially from the conservative right. Here is what four authoritative sources have concluded:

It is a fact that over the past 100 years, the planet has warmed. It is also a fact that this warming has occurred due to the burning of fossil fuels. This fact is confirmed in all models – even the U.S. Department of Energy models. It is also a fact that the burning of fossil fuels is a man-made activity, not a natural event on the planet. So why do people (primarily in the United States on the conservative right) continue to voice opinions contrary to these facts? For starters, we all have a bias when it comes to something that does not appeal to us. We are guilty of showing favoritism when the alternative is extremely challenging.

Let’s look at another issue that was once controversial - smoking cigarettes. Years ago, we all didn’t think much about smoking cigarettes. But an emerging consensus grew from authoritative sources that smoking is harmful to your health. Over time, people in the United States came to accept that smoking is bad and we must change. This is why it is important to pay attention to factual data coming from multiple authoritative sources. Those who recognize these facts early-on are better positioned for future opportunities. And yes, I’m sure I can still find a doctor who thinks smoking is not harmful to one’s health; but you have to listen to what the authoritative consensus is telling you. This is part of how you effectively deal with factual evidence, recognizing what the best sources have all concluded.   

It is also important to distinguish opinions from fact. Opinions are not the same as facts. Opinions are rooted in emotions, beliefs, and feelings. Opinions are not easily validated. However, facts are proven and if you disagree with the facts, then go out and test the facts. See if climate change is real or see if smoking doesn’t harm your health. In the case of climate change, companies like Exxon-Mobil have gone out of their way to test the facts since these issues have profound implications on their future business.

It seems dealing facts is not easy in today’s changing world; perhaps because facts are challenging us to change in a very dramatic way. But if we fail to deal with facts and continue to digest nothing but opinions and elevate extreme viewpoints, then we will get it wrong.  The best companies and the smartest people realize the importance of dealing with facts in the right way; such as looking for consensus from the most authoritative sources. It is those companies and people who deal with facts that will own the future and those who continue to ignore facts will increasingly become irrelevant.

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