Innumerable “experts” are now able to share their wisdom widely, at the click of a button, thanks to the expansion of social media and blogging platforms. The ability to publish one’s assertions, however, does not ensure the validity or value of the content. There are few limitations on what one can publish.
Consider an example at the opposite end of this spectrum – peer-reviewed journals. Despite the rigorous review process, authors are occasionally discredited after publication of an article. Falsified data, inappropriate research protocols, or inconsistent conclusions may be discovered.
The journal scenario is a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that there is a third party (journal editor) responsible for maintaining the integrity and quality of published research that will publish a correction. The bad news is that, many times, the correction may not reach those that rely on the original work, trusting its accuracy. Also, reproductions of the article may not include the correction as an update or attachment.
Unfiltered content does not provide even this imperfect safety net. Perhaps one can leave a comment online, disputing an article’s content or conclusions, but where does that lead? Often, nowhere.
Success and happiness are popular subjects; many self-published “experts” will tell how to achieve them. Some discuss diet and exercise, morning routines, and various other habits and behaviors. Unfortunately, these articles are often oversimplified, failing to recognize differences among us.
Success and happiness are too subjective to be fully considered by a small set of rigid rules. Individuals’ definitions of these terms vary, as do their aspirations. Personalities, capabilities, and motivations also differ. Emulating another person’s habits does not ensure that you will duplicate their outcomes.
Maintaining a healthy level of skepticism can prevent you from falling victim to faulty information, biased conclusions, deliberate deceit, or other poor or improperly-motivated practices. For example:
Beware the Superlatives. Whenever someone declares their approach the best, it is advisable to ask a series of questions, such as best for what, who, when, and where? Best for my company or industry? Best for me? How is this better than what I currently do or methods x, y, and z that others promote? Convince yourself that it is the best and why.
Beware the Absolutes. Absolute terms, such as “all,” “every,” or “must,” are rarely accurate. Articles that use these terms should be approached with caution. There are exceptions to every rule; to use the rule effectively, you should know what they are and which ones apply to your situation.
Consider the Source. Publications become reputable by consistently providing reliable information and actionable strategies. Consider the author’s qualifications and past contributions to relevant discussions. Identify and avoid those with obvious conflicts of interest. A strong reputation will usually beget a reliable safety net to protect you from dangerous content, but it cannot be assured.
Following generic advice, without adapting it to your unique circumstances, can be counterproductive. Without filtering the advice and tailoring a plan to meet your specific needs, unsatisfactory results may lead to a decline in performance relative to goals and a loss of confidence. Someone experiencing this is in danger of repeating the mistake as they desperately seek solutions to their problems. Breaking the cycle requires analysis of the situation, the strategies attempted, and the reasons they were unsuccessful.
This is not meant to discourage anyone from reading the “experts’” articles; the opposite, in fact. I encourage everyone to gather tips and inspiration anywhere they can be found. I only wish to provide a caveat against blind adherence to “expert advice” and to encourage critical thinking and self-reflection before implementing a generic plan.
If you ever have any questions about what you read in “The Third Degree,” I encourage you to put them in the comments or contact JayWink Solutions or the author directly. We are happy to expand on the ideas discussed in the blog and look forward to productive exchanges. We expect to learn from them as well as share our experience with others.
Jody W. Phelps, MSc, PMP®, MBA
JayWink Solutions, LLC
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