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07/09/2012

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Couldn't agree more with your comments. It's a combination of lots of bad advice and an audience that doesn't listen (in part because it's so hard to figure out what advice actually works). The diet industry is an excellent example. The vast majority of advice is bad. Milk is not good for you. Some fats are actually good for you. Too many carbs are bad. Processed foods, white flour and sugar are really really bad for you. The evidence is clear - once you sort through it. Read http://nyti.ms/i9lQST

The "solution" is critical thinking and using data and evidence. Unfortunately, most people can't tell when studies are flawed or data is bad, and critical thinking is not common. So there is good advice out there and people with solutions that work. The problem is most people can't tell the difference between good advice and bad advice, and then are often unwilling to do the work that's usually necessary.

There is an excess supply of instant experts (self-defined, of course), using all the many new media outlets to drown you in the noise of their exaggerated claims. The biggest megaphone usually prevails. Or at least the best advertised story tends to overwhelm the superior but quieter messages.

Re-shapers abound who repeat tired old truisms as brand-new discoveries. Sincere searches for truth are hindered by the fog from myriad frauds whose simplistic claims must be dispelled to find the real but often complex answers. Skimmers who rely on facile image outnumber analysts who dig for valid substance. Critical thinking is seldom taught and even more rarely exercised.

So it behooves us to celebrate those who seek objective truth over subjective consensus. Good for you, who read this! You deserve a pat on the back. Keep fighting.

Mike, you hit the nail on the head. Critical thinking is a rare quality these days.

One thing I found out is that there's a lot of incompetent people hiding behind a quality brand such as Hay, Mercer, E&Y, PwC etc. And just because they are branded with these well-known, well-respected logos, most people automatically assume their expertise and credibility.
Good article, Chuck, thanks.

I don't think this is so much about self-help as it is about quick fixes and magic bullets. And yes, critical thinking is THE, uh, magic bullet to slay the quick-fix monster. :)

Terrific books by John Allen Paulos (his "Innumeracy" series) help people be less vulnerable to specious numbers. Nicely written, too. Fun stuff like "the probability that someone who speaks Spanish is from Spain is very different from the probability that a person from Spain speaks Spanish."

Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast and Slow" does a great job of showing how our brains and biases can interfere with critical thinking and we won't even be aware of it.

"Decision Traps," by Russo and Schoemaker, is a classic in helping people protect themselves against their own sloppy thinking and sloppy thinking in groups.

About experts. I enthusiastically agree with Mike, Jim, and Pavel that a subjective-consensus "expert" isn't necessarily an objective-truth expert. So how do we tell the difference? One way is to pause and ask a simple question: does this expert make sense. Does he or she rely on stories, anecdotes, and coincidences, or does he or she demonstrate depth of understanding and cause and effect?

I've been a competitive-strategy consultant (uh oh :)) for 35 years, and I actually like self-help stuff. Not the quick-fix magic-bullet style, but rather the style that asks good questions and doesn't presume that the author knows the right answer for you. I even wrote a book along those lines because I wanted to read such a thing.

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