Preface

Given my professional work I thought I would share with you an article I wrote on 10th May 2019 days before the 2019 Federal Election.

I have not updated it as I think, upon reflection, it still stands the test of time and shows us what happened.

I welcome your feedback.

 

How to make informed Buying & Voting decisions in a sea of Biased & Fake News - originally published on 10 May 2019

In a world filled with so many opportunities, choices and facts there are also equal amounts, if not more, of biased news, fake news and fads, which now make it that much harder to make sound decisions, buy or purchase anything or vote with confidence.

The internet and, more specifically, social media is flooding us with so much information that it is screwing up with what I call ‘our bat radar’ – our ability to make informed decisions about whatever is important to us.

Many people are vying for our attention, our spend and our votes. And it seems many will do whatever it takes to ‘win’ us over to their side even if it means lying and deceiving us. Think about 20,000+ lies accounted for from the current US president in just over 2 years in office.

So who (or what) are we to believe?

This is tricky.

First, here is an interesting aspect about humans; we are psychologically motivated to be satisfied with our decisions. We want to feel good about the decisions we make. We want to feel certain we are right because the alternative is potentially threatening or humiliating. Many salespeople are taught to never denigrate a competitor your client/prospect is using because what you are doing is denigrating your client’s buying decision. Diplomacy is key here. When we are confronted with information to the contrary this creates a cognitive dissonance – often our immediate reaction is to dismiss the opposing view as wrong. So if we want to persuade others of a different point of view we need to acknowledge theirs first and create space to understand where change could happen and then show alternatives without being offensive. 

Secondly, if our choices are informed by trustworthy data, sources and people, we can increase our chances of making good decisions that lead to good outcomes. This leads to trust and trust leads to confidence.  If I am confident that you have my interests at heart and are helping me make a better, more informed decision I should be able to believe you and your claims.

As I have said before Trustworthiness is the heartbeat of business and Harvard Business School says Trustworthiness is underpinned by three core elements: Authenticity, Empathy and Logic.

Ideally, this is what we should be looking for every time when we’re looking to buy or vote. But it’s not that easy in real life. There are a number of factors at play.

Personal Bias & Algorithms

Whether we are buying something, making a new career choice, entering a new market, launching a new business or product, choosing to spend the rest of our lives with someone, or voting in a politician and government, we want the best outcome for ourselves at the very least. So we look for information that will support our decisions, our biases, our dreams, goals and desires.

Humans are biased towards looking for information that confirms their already held opinions and beliefs. Social media platforms work with whatever we show interest in -by clicking on a link or searching for term- to show us more about the same thing. So when you combine these two factors, the outcome can be frightening.

When our decisions affect only ourselves the decision making process is much easier because we only have ourselves to consider, but when it comes to our families, our teams, our electorate and our nation things are made a whole lot trickier because of the scale of the decisions being made and how they can impact others.  It’s very hard to relate to multi-billion dollar spends, social systems you do not understand, and things outside of your lived experience, for example. This is why people get scared of things they do not know or understand and why some businesses, groups and political parties prey on this with their scare tactics and appeal to self-interest.

The Perils of Confusion Marketing  

Without good frameworks of thinking in place to help us factor in all of the variables at play and come to a reasonable conclusion, our decision making effectiveness can be severely impacted. Which is what some politicians and suppliers want to happen. They don’t want you to think too much. They like it that you are feeling confused and unsure. They want you to react to fear stimuli which is why I have a big issue with the practice of Confusion Marketing that industries like the Telcos and Energy companies use daily.

Confusion Marketing is the controversial strategy and practice of deliberately sending confusing marketing material in order to hinder consumers’ comparisons with other similar offers. This is also what is happening in politics on a massive scale.

With the Australian Federal Election (2019) campaign in full swing, I have been amazed at the sea of biased and fake news, lies and propaganda being spread through all media channels including the mainstream media (MSM). It is extraordinary to see what is unfolding before us and how it is playing to our basest* selves, which is not pretty, especially on Twitter, Facebook and WeChat.  It seems many have thrown Authenticity, Empathy and Logic out the window.

Preying on people’s fears in the hope they don’t dig any deeper and just accept things at face value is rife in this election and it takes a lot for anyone to rise above the fray and stay rational and calm so as to base their decisions on facts and information that often involves complex concepts and systems.

So how do we explain complex concepts in simpler ways that people can genuinely relate to and understand? That’s the real issue here. It’s much easier to sling mud than to engage in a proper contest of ideas.

I am wondering how people in the Australian electorates are making decisions about who and what to vote for. What are they basing their decisions on? Do they care about who they vote for or not? Are they being swayed by propaganda and hate for the other?

What are they relying on? Is it trustworthy data, clear policies, lies, false advertisements, their own feelings, their intuition, hearsay – what others say, the charm or likeability of a person, the fashion of the times, group think or echo chambers, celebrity endorsements, spin, what they have always done before, popularism, fear of the new, or a combination of all these?

It’s very hard to say.

Making informed decisions

All I know from experience is that when it comes to important decisions I like to rely upon more than one source of data and I like to get my data from reliable sources, not hearsay and propaganda. Because relying solely on one information source or not knowing how to correlate multiple sources of data to reach an informed decision may leave us vulnerable to problems down the track.

For instance, when recruiting a new person to a team or business, would we only rely on one source of data i.e. their CV? Probably not. We are more likely to use a multi-faceted assessment process where we review their CV, interview them against a clear job profile (hopefully with relevant behavioural interview questions), maybe do some psychometric assessments or a simulation, a possible second interview and some reference checking. Here we are assessing a candidate against multiple points of data and then correlating this to our feelings, intuition and so on, looking to make an informed decision.

So whether you are buying something, thinking about your next career move or holiday, implementing a new business systems or voting, here is a checklist that might help when it comes to making more informed decisions for yourself, your family, your business or your community:

Checklist on what you are buying or voting for:

  1. The OFFER – approach, product, service or policy
    1. Look for evidence
      1. Is the offer well researched and demonstrates substance, capability and effectiveness?
      2. If there are no details on offer, only promises, slogans or scarcity or bullying tactics – walk away, no matter how enticing it appears to be
    2. Ask more questions
      1. What is the offer trying to achieve?
      2. What problems is it trying to solve/address?
      3. Who or what does it affect and how? Positive and negative consequences
      4. Does the offer align with your priorities/goals and what you are looking for in your personal life, career, business, community, state or the nation?
    3. Ask the 3 Decision Questions
      1. Is the offer life threatening, morally threatening or unhealthy?
      2. If you get a ‘yes’ to any of these questions then rethink your decision
  2. The WHO – person, business, brand, political party, organisation
    1. Purpose & Credibility
      1. What do they stand for? i.e. morals, values, ethics, focus, principles, ideas, ideologies, areas of interest, etc.
      2. What are they trying to achieve? Is it for the common good or only for a few?
      3. Who do they represent? Overtly & covertly
      4. Do they focus on triple bottom line outcomes? people, profit, planet
      5. What are their intentions? At the expense of others or for others?
      6. What are their credentials? Accreditations, legal structure, qualifications, experience, track record, history of legal disputes and criminal record, etc.
    2. Behaviours & Personal Conduct
      1. Do they answer your questions concisely and clearly with evidence or just use spin and slogans?
      2. Do they talk over you or do they genuinely listen to you and your concerns?
      3. Do they engage in ‘Gas Lighting’ you or their competition?
      4. Do they using bullying and intimidation tactics?
      5. Do they say one thing then do another?
      6. How do they treat their people, suppliers, constituents, customers, etc.?
      7. Do they follow up and keep their word?
  1. The COMPARISON
    1. Apply the above filters to the competitors and line them up to make a comparison
    2. For the up-coming Australian Federal Election, Denise Shrivell has compiled an amazing spreadsheet comparing the major parties: Labor & Liberal/Nats – you can download the google doc here.

Remember, if it sounds like it’s too good to be true it is too good to be true.

All the very best.

*Basest – The definition of basest is having the least morals or being of the lowest class. An example of basest used as an adjective is in the phrase “the basest character in the play” which means the most corrupt character in the play.