Fundamental #27: Get the Facts

The 30 Fundamentals that make up the “ConnectSMART Way” describe how we want to run our business – the way we treat our clients, the way we work with each other, and even the way we relate to our vendors and suppliers.  They’re who we are and they’re the foundation of our success.  They drive everything we do, every day. Each week we focus on a different fundamental and discuss in depth.

Fundamental #27: Get the Facts

Don’t make assumptions. There’s always more to the story than it first appears. Learn to gather the facts before jumping to conclusions or making judgments. Be curious about what other information might give you a more complete picture..

“Just the facts ma’am”: DashboardsThis is the classic catchphrase that embodies this fundamental — maybe even more than you think! Many of you might have immediately recognized this classic line from the TV series Dragnet, but there is one small problem. Did you know that line was never spoken in the series until the 2003 remake? The producers added in “just the facts” into one single episode. The commonly mis-attributed catchphrase came from a radio parody of Dragnet. If you had heard the phrase before, most likely you would have been adamant that it was from the series!

In fact, I seriously considered changing my introduction to this Fundamentals article, and setting up Dave Bennett up for a bet on a good box of cigars. Before I start to sound a little smug, I would have lost the same bet a few minutes ago before I Googled it.

That is the funny thing about assumptions. We ALL make them. We are especially prone to accept assumptions when they support our own closely held viewpoints or beliefs. Common myths like the Great Wall of China being the only man-made structure that can be seen from space (actually it can’t, but the pyramids can) — and the myth of toilets that are fllushed in the Southern hemisphere swirling in the opposite direction due to the Coriolis effect are often not even questioned. Before the prevalence of the Internet, it’s understandable that many of these assumptions could not be verified or debunked because of the difficulty of information access. Today a 5-second search can either support or destroy many of these false assumptions. (Just because it is common knowledge doesn’t make it true.)

It is amazing that there is so much misconception even in our world of instant access to information. Why is that? I think it comes primarily from two reasons: laziness and agenda. Often the only things we question are the things we don’t agree with. How often to you question the things that support your own beliefs?

I was going to insert a great quote from James Carville on why he became a Democratic Political Strategist here – except he never said it. It is much easier to forward the incendiary email or like the hyped Facebook post that agrees with our personal views rather that do a little research to see if it is actually true. We usually look for ‘facts’ to support our opinion than to form our opinion!

Smart DashboardsCuriosity is defined as the desire to learn or know about anything. The motivation is learning and understanding. I believe this is the key to this fundamental. When we are “getting the facts” we have to “check our ego at the door” (Fundamental #6). Unfortunately, today we are more agenda-driven than curiosity-driven. If something supports my political, social, or religious predispositions, I tend to give it more validity without research. I read somewhere that “one of the most genuine merits of science is probably its readiness to admit if it preaches or reveals something wrong.” I think this is one of the hardest things for us to do. A “fact” is something that has occurred or has actually been experienced. From a scientific standpoint it is something that can be observed and repeated. Sometimes these facts get in the way of how we see things. And sometimes these “facts” are proven false.

We will never have ALL of the facts, but we have to do our best to gather as many as possible before jumping to conclusions. We can’t allow ourselves to suffer from “analysis paralysis”. Sometimes we have to take a leap of faith, but always be willing to have your assumptions challenged. Better yet, challenge your own assumptions – whether they are good or bad – your assumptions dictate your future. The President of Western Union turned down the patent for the telephone because it “lacked commercial possibilities” seeing it as an electronic toy. Kodak assumed that their digital patents would protect them from encroachment from digital photography and that film would always be better. Jonathon MacDonald who runs the Thought Expansion Network had these three keys to expanding thinking in an interview with Amy Moran in Forbes: “ 1) Question purpose and objectives. Ask yourself why you require the information you seek or are given. What is the ultimate benefit? Why do you need this information? A useful tool for doing this is to continually insert the word “because” after every answer. This seems trivial but it is almost always valuable in digging deep into your own reasoning. The outcome of doing this will either provide clarity on what you’re trying to achieve, or highlight there is an urgent need to address the ultimate purpose or objective. 2) Challenge sources and assumptions. For what you are trying to achieve, make a list of the sources you get information from, including regular publications, websites and people. Then make a list of the assumptions you are making. Now argue every point to test how valid it truly is. A useful tool for doing this is by running your thinking past someone who is unconnected to the task but yet understands the general field you’re in. You can also test your assumptions with people who are unrelated to your field of activity. This alternative perspective can be invaluable. The outcome of doing this will either provide rigor to your decision-making process, or highlight there is an urgent need to review what sources you use and what assumptions you make. 3) Adjust your mindset and methodology. The hardest step is to then change the way you see past success, present circumstance and future opportunity. As with any mastery, practice is the only way to learn so the starting point is to get uncomfortable with your circumstance. A useful tool for doing this is to visualize any success you have achieved as no more than 1% of the present and future. In this visualization it is also important to see the 99% remaining as unaffected by the 1% that’s already in place. You could imagine that everything you read is partial, everyone you meet has something to teach you, and your decision-making process should always include new sources, removed assumptions and alternative input by outsiders, just as in point two. The outcome of doing this will prepare you for perpetual and unpredictable change, purely because you will be continually questioning and challenging assumptions.”

As I’m reviewing my own assumptions this week, I challenge you to do the same. Our assumptions are what keep us “in the box”. To get out of the box we have to recognize that we are in one, ask why (Fundamental #7), embrace change (Fundamental #17) and deliver results (Fundamental #11).

Dan