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We are only as good as the information we consume. People with misconceptions are not dumb or illiterate, they’re just poorly informed. In fact, highly intelligent people often pontificate about things they know very little about. I call it “articulate ignorance.”

Tom Holler, SimpliFaster, 10 Common Misconceptions About Feed the Cats.

To avoid “articulate ignorance,” I like to look at the actual data. In the case of the news and social media, I try to see the actual tweet, speech, statement, video, etc. This helps me train my judgment and not be triggered when I see the typical headlines that are often sensationalized.

Experience The Actual Events Where Possible

Years ago, I listened to an admiral give a talk at the end of his assignment at the United States Pacific Forces in Hawaii. Giving such a talk is a tradition for an outgoing commander to do, and I decided to go listen to it in person as I was also stationed in Hawaii. The talk was fairly general in nature and touched on all the countries that were around the Pacific and were under the umbrella of the US Pacific Forces. It was pretty boring.

Compare Your Experience To What Others Claim

The next morning, the Honolulu Advertiser had a huge headline and top-of-page article about the Philippines, which was of great interest to people in Hawaii. They quoted the admiral, it seemed, as a way to have an excuse to write about the Philippines. The entire article was about the Philippines, and anyone reading it would have assumed that this was either everything the admiral said or what he emphasized. The massive front-page article bore no resemblance to what I had heard the admiral say.

Look To History For Similliar Patterns

This was back in the 1980s, and it taught me to treat with skepticism what people wrote in news outlets. This was a variation on the same insight I gained while working at the National Security Agency in the 1970s: that people will report what they think they know, even if they don’t know what really happened. The Hawaii experience added that people will report what they want to talk about rather than what was talked about.

Dig Deep To Discover The Real Insights

Finding the real information in the cacophony of media that exists is a skill that comes with practice. Read the original post or tweet. Listen to the original speech. Read the full judicial ruling. Find and read the actual research paper. Watch the unedited video. Always strive to find the rest of the context: the “what” that came before. It is too easy to accept what we want to hear and reject what we don’t want to hear.

Do It Regularly To Train Our Intuition

We don’t need to do this with everything. We just need to do it often enough that we train our gut, our intuition, to recognize the hazards inherent in the everyday reporting of data and events. When we drill down, we discover an objective reality. If we act on that reality, there is a better chance we will get the results we seek because we acted on reality and not the fantasy others were claiming.

Avoid Articulate Ignorance

All this is equally true in business and project management in particular. We need to look at the actual data plus its context, not always someone’s PowerPoint rendition of the data, and work to understand it. In my experience, more often than not, I had to go dig up the data myself because what was being reported was unusable because it didn’t capture the full data and its context.

For more techniques on getting the data we need see: Deep Dive and Be Masters Of Our Universe.

What about your project is important enough to take the time and effort to dig up the source data to understand the issue and avoid “articulate ignorance”?

Thank you for sharing!