Archive | July, 2014

Can You Trust the Opinions of Experts? Three Reasons To Be Skeptical

Years ago, when our kids were young and we spent nearly every summer weekend boating all over northern Michigan, I remember how dependent we were on the weather. Starting early in the week, I remember hanging onto every word of the TV weatherman’s forecast, switching networks if we didn’t like what we heard — as if that would somehow change things.

Over time, I also realized how often they were wrong — and it bugged me that forecasters harbor no sense of accountability when their “mostly sunny” forecast on Wednesday is swept away by a steady downpour come Saturday afternoon.

Are northern Michigan meteorologists the only trained experts whose predictions consistently fall through?

Not at all, thanks to some fascinating research by University of Pennsylvania social science Professor Phil Tetlock, who, while serving on the National Research Council in 1984, was asked to respond to political experts’ dire predictions that relations between the U.S. and Soviet Union were ready to collapse in the wake of Ronald Reagan’s infamous “evil empire” speech. The following year, when Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary and everything changed, Tetlock was exasperated that none of the so-called “experts” who made these dire predictions admitted their mistake. In response, he created a study designed to hold experts’ feet to the fire.

He recruited 284 people who were designated experts — highly educated people (over half had PHD’s) who frequently offered advice on political or economic trends. Over 61% had been interviewed by the national media. They were asked to make predictions in their area of expertise. Economists were asked about future growth rates of GDP, for example, while political experts predicted which party would lose or retain control in upcoming elections. Tetlock stuck to fairly basic predictions, trying to create such clear questions that experts would have no excuses if they were wrong.

From the mid-80’s until 2003, he collected over 82,000 predictions, publishing his findings in a book called Expert Political Judgment: How Good is It? How Can We Know?

Experts who made more media appearances (think high profile media outlets like CNN and Fox News) had the lowest performance in Tetlock's research study!

The results were astounding. Not only were the so-called “experts” way off, but in addition, according to Tetlock, even the best forecasters did worse than what the professor termed a “crude extrapolation algorithm,” which is a simple computation that takes the base rates and projects that the trends from the past few years will continue. (Example: If the GDP growth rate average 1.9% over the past four years, it will continue to grow at 1.9%). What’s more, those with higher levels of education did no better.

And even more interesting, the experts who made more media appearances (think high profile media outlets like CNN and Fox News) had the lowest performance! And further research has shown that a wide range of fields, from psychologists to lawyers, have a similarly horrible track record at making predictions.

In other words, when it comes to predicting the future, you’re likely to get no more accurate projections than a pimply-faced teenager with basic information and a calculator.

What do you do with this surprising finding? I can think of three major reasons why skepticism plays a positive role here:

Be prudently skeptical. Resist the urge to blindly trust “expert opinions” on world-shaping trends that dominate the news outlets and talk shows. Whether it’s climate change, the collapse of social security, or the rising cost of a college education, be prepared, but don’t overreact. Chances are, the future is not nearly as bleak — or bright — as the “experts” proclaim.

Understand the media’s underlying goal. When you’re watching pundits on CNN or Fox News prognosticate on some future trend, remember: the main objective of the media is not reporting the news but winning the ratings battle. The result: controversy, drama, and sensationalism take precedence over accurate, balanced news coverage. Perhaps that explains why some of the most successful people I know almost never watch the news!

Don’t be swayed by fear — or greed. If you’re starting your own business, launching a new career, or doing anything that involves risk, remember: risk is unavoidable. Sometimes you need to trust your instincts and plunge forward. On the other hand, don’t be swayed by over-optimism (think late 90’s tech stocks). Generally, your grandparents had it right when they said, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

What about you? Does this revealing surprise you? Does it change the way you interpret the opinions of experts? I’d really like to know!

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Who’s Your Hero?

Actor Matthew McConaughey, in his Oscars acceptance speech for Best Actor in Dallas Buyers Club, shared an interesting perspective on heroes:

“When I was 15 years old, I had a very important person in my life come up to me and say, ‘Who’s your hero?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. I gotta think about that. Give me a couple of weeks.’ I come back two weeks later. This person comes up and says, ‘Who’s your hero?’ I said, ‘I thought about it. You know who it is? It’s me in 10 years.’ So I turned 25. Ten years later, that same person comes to me and goes, ‘So, are you a hero?’ And I was like, ‘Not even close. No, no, no. My hero is me at 35.’ You see, every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero is always ten years away. I’m never gonna be my hero; I’m not gonna attain that. I know I’m not, and that’s just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing. So, to any of us, whatever those things are, whatever it is we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to, and whoever it is we’re chasing, to that I say, ‘Amen.”

What a fascinating perspective on heroism. In a culture like ours where people are always looking for a hero, someone to look up to, to point the way, and to provide something for us to belong to, a Hollywood actor suggests the hero is right inside you. It’s your future ideal self.

What if you "awakened the slumbering hero that lies dormant inside you?"

Since the core theme of this blog is personal branding, how does this idea influence the way you develop your brand? I think of three big benefits:

1) It forces you to be brutally honest with yourself. I’ve met lots of people who put others on pedestals — especially people with wealth or influence. Although they don’t use the word, they turn them into heroes — sometimes idols — based, in many cases, on superficial qualities. It seems like a way of deflecting their own insecurities without ever confronting them. But if you set your sights instead on the person you can be if you live up to your potential, you are forced to be brutally honest with your own strengths, as well as your insecurities, which is healthy.

2) It compels you to grow. Every time I hear someone tell me about all the years of experience they have in a certain field or profession, I am tempted to respond, “Do you really have twenty years experience, or do you have one year’s worth of experience repeated twenty times?” Getting clear — really clear — about the person you aspire to be in the future and then chasing that ideal every day will force you to live intentionally. You have no choice but to expand your boundaries, examine your assumptions, stretch your comfort zone, and grow as a person.

3) It commands you to believe in yourself. To be honest, it’s tempting to try to emulate the people we admire — to search out the well-worn paths of other’s success and jump on, hoping it will lead us to our own. But like the man who sacrifices everything in his life in pursuit of a retirement full of wealth and leisure, it almost never satisfies. So instead of idealizing others, what if you idealized yourself — the best version of you at some set point in the future — and went after it? You would have to resist the pressure of impersonation, and believe — really believe — that you are enough.

What is your definition of a hero? Who have you looked up to throughout your life and why? Have your heroes changed as you’ve gotten older? What if you, as Darren Hardy of SUCCESS Magazine puts it, “awakened the slumbering hero that lies dormant inside you?” What would adopting this unique perspective Matthew McConaughey shared mean to your personal brand… and to your life?

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Learn to Be Lucky: Four Simple Tips to Create Luck, Multiply Success, and Live a Positively Productive Life

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to live charmed lives, full of lucky breaks, while others fall victim to one misfortune after another?

No charms needed: Wiseman finds that luck -- good or bad -- is purely a state of mind.

In his landmark book, The Luck Factor, Professor Richard Wiseman from the University of Herefordshire in England, answers this question, coming to the promising conclusion that luck — good or bad — is purely a state of mind.

Wiseman exhaustively researched the beliefs, habits, and experiences of more than 400 people over several years. His findings: Luck is not the result of random chance, nor are people born lucky or unlucky. Instead, luckiness can be predicted by examining people’s patterns of thinking and behavior. In other words, luck can actually be learned. Here are four core principles underlying lives of good fortune.

1) Lucky people create chance events. They are adept at noticing and finding ways to act upon chance opportunities. They tend to be relaxed and open, often discovering possibilities well beyond what they were looking for. Unlucky people, by contrast, are more tense and myopic and avoid taking risks, preferring to stay in their comfort zones.
2) Lucky people produce success by relying on their intuition. They tend to go with their gut instincts while unlucky people tend to rely more on logic.
3) Lucky people expect good things to happen. They create self-fulfilling prophecies through positive expectations, knowing what they want and reinforcing it through positive, affirming self-talk. (They tell themselves how lucky they are.) By contrast, unlucky people tend to dwell on what they don’t want… which often turns out to be exactly what they get.
4) Lucky people display a high level of resilience that transforms bad luck into good luck. Wiseman’s lucky subjects were extremely persistent, while their unlucky counterparts gave up at the first signs of struggle.

One of the most striking contrasts from Wiseman’s research was the difference in how his lucky subjects re-framed unfortunate experiences compared to unlucky folks. Wiseman explains:

“I decided to present lucky and unlucky people with some unlucky scenarios and see how they reacted. I asked lucky and unlucky people to imagine that, while waiting in line in a bank, an armed robber enters, fires a shot, and the bullet hits them in the arm. Would this event be lucky or unlucky? Unlucky people tended to say that this would be enormously unlucky and it would be just their bad luck to be in the bank during the robbery. In contrast, lucky people viewed the scenario as being far luckier, and often spontaneously commented on how the situation could have been far worse. ‘It’s lucky because you could have been shot in the head — also, you could sell your story to the newspapers and make some money.”

As Wiseman’s research reveals, the differences between lucky and unlucky people have nothing to do with blind chance. Perhaps most encouraging, luckiness can be learned, a claim the author backs up by creating a “luck school” in which he coaches previously unlucky people to adopt measurable, luck-building behaviors. The results, according to Wiseman’s research, are dramatic. “Eighty percent of the ‘luck school’ students are now happier, more satisfied with their lives and, perhaps best of all, luckier.”

So, if you want good fortune, start telling yourself how lucky you are, act upon chance events, trust your instincts, and persistently go after your goals!

If you want good fortune, start telling yourself how lucky you are!

What is your reaction to Wiseman’s findings? What are your beliefs about luck? Do you consider yourself to be superstitious? (According to a 1996 Gallup Poll, 25% of Americans claimed to be somewhat to very superstitious.) Did anything in Wiseman’s research surprise you? If you lived out these four “luck-building” principles consistently, what would it mean to your personal brand… and to your life?

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Put Your Phone Down! How Bad Business Etiquette can Erode your Personal Brand

Several years ago, I was asked to speak to a group of auto dealers in Chicago on customer loyalty. Having recently installed a ground-breaking process for measuring customer engagement in our company, I was well prepared — and eager to share what I had learned.

Despite the positive feedback from the fifteen dealers in the group, what I remember most about the experience was anything but positive. Two people spent the entire time — nearly an hour — looking down in their laps as they read and responded to messages via their smart phones. It really bothered me! Having invested hours preparing for my talk, their actions clearly communicated a callous indifference not only to me as the presenter, but to the entire group.

That’s why, when I heard that Allison Beers of Events North was delivering a presentation on business etiquette called “Put Your Phone Down!” I had to check it out.

Allison and I after her recent presentation on business etiquette.

Allison and I after her recent presentation on business etiquette.

In a humorous, personal style, Allison compiled a considerable list of annoying business etiquette violations — including a hilarious parody of a conference call gone bad — describing dozens of ways otherwise aspiring people undermine their personal brands by ignoring some simple and, in most cases, common sense rules of etiquette. Her wide-ranging examples covered virtually everything, from email IQ to bad breath to table manners.

Of all the great points she shared, here are my top five:

1) If you have to take a phone call during a meeting, mention it right up front. Few things can be more disruptive than someone answering their phone right in the middle of a meeting. Or, just as bad, announcing to everyone, “Excuse me, I really need to take this call,” then answering the phone three steps before you’ve left the room. If you suspect the call you’ve been waiting for will arrive while you’re in the meeting, ask permission by saying, “There’s a really important phone call that may come in during this meeting. Is it OK if I take it?”

2) Return your voice mails within 24 hours. Have you ever listened to recorded voice mail greeting that said, “I’m not sure when I will return your call, so don’t count on me getting back to you anytime soon?” Highly unlikely, which is why you must constantly remind yourself that your voice mail contains an expressed promise to return every call as soon as you are physically able. For Allison’s firm, the standard is within 24 hours — yet that may be too late. If you are committed to building a strong personal brand, I suggest you make it a point to get back to every caller by the end of the business day.

3) Purge your vocabulary of the ubiquitous pseudo-customer service phrase, “No problem.” When someone says “thank you,” how did your parents teach you to respond? I bet it wasn’t “No problem,” but somehow this mediocrity-laden response has come to replace “you’re welcome” or “my pleasure” as the standard courtesy response for as long as anyone can remember. It’s weak, unprofessional, and not acceptable for aspiring professionals.

4) Acknowledge people who enter your space with simple eye contact. Working in a retail environment, I’m especially cognizant of the rude, inhospitable message we communicate when a customer walks into a business confronted by employees talking on the phone who are totally oblivious to their presence. A simple smile and head nod is all it takes to say, “I see you — you are important to me, I will be with you as soon as I can.” Yes, words matter, but don’t ever forget the powerful impact of positive body language — direct eye contact, smile, body position, etc.

5) Put your phone down. According to Allison, many people don’t understand the signals they send if they choose to glue themselves to their phones when they should be paying attention. She told the story of an intern who accompanied her to a high-stakes lunch with a group of potential clients and was incredulous when the intern, fresh out of college, remained fixated on her smart phone virtually the entire meeting. According to Allison, her behavior completely changed her opinion of this woman’s competence. “College life does not equate to work life,” she wisely told her intern. Good advice!

The big idea from Allison’s talk? You are 100% responsible for the perceptions you create. So plan ahead, practice common sense, speak before you act, and remember — it’s not about you.

This coming 4th of July weekend is a perfect opportunity to practice “putting your phone down.” For example, have you ever noticed how some people use a smart phone as a social shield to protect them from engaging in meaningful conversation? Or how some people are so focused (literally) on using their smart phones to take photos of their family and friends that they miss seeing these moments up close and personal and instead watch only snippets through a small viewing screen? What messages are these behaviors sending to those who are watching and learning?

What messages are these behaviors sending to those who are watching and learning?

Don’t be that person! Step up, engage, be present with people and you’ll not only make a connection, you may end up having a great time!

Put your phone down and enjoy the holiday weekend!

Because it’s near impossible to take a great fireworks photo with your smart phone camera anyway!



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