Gurus …

The world is full of gurus, experts, and masters.  We used to have a lot of “meisters” as well, but that term seems to have lost its panache.

We crave knowledge, but too often settle for data and information.

On a recent stroll around our neighborhood, I noticed a fellow resident talking about the benefits of living here with several people in a car, who were obviously shopping for a new home.

I sure hope they talk to more than just this one person, to get a fuller picture of life in our neighborhood.  Their source is a known “crank” at resident association meetings, a poor neighbor to those around him, and generally negative human being.  I don’t like his dog, either.

We do not always adequately or accurately evaluate what we receive . While my neighbor was not seeking the “expert” role, many do and we need to approach their value carefully.   Here are five things I learned “the hard way” about learning from others.

Be A Tad Nitpicky

Pay attention to the details and question them.  Many folks like to talk in generalities and make vague statements.  Consider what they are saying in terms of consistency, validity, and common sense.

You are always the best source of evaluation of the worth of an idea for yourself.  Nobody knows your situation or engagement … nobody.

That said, do not be afraid to seek advice or help.  See below.

Do Not Put One Egg In Your Basket

Asking people’s opinions about something is fine – a random stranger walking down the road may not be your best source of information.  Ask many strangers walking down that road and average the results.  Visit the road to ask those strangers at different times of day and different days.

Take Someone Else’s Word For It

Similar to the above ~ seek multiple sources of information from which you can draw some conclusions.    If you hear a message from one person, that forms one vote or one opinion.  When many are saying basically the same thing, that’s crowdsourcing.

Of course, it might also be groupthink – beware the tendency for many to go along with an idea or an action without being really engaged or in favor of it.

Look At Who Is Listening

Sometimes you can learn more about the validity of a person who is sharing information by observing those who are listening with a critical eye.   The more credible the audience, the more credible the speaker.

Pay attention to their response ~ someone may have many people engaged with him, but not in a good way:)

Look for  the tendency by some folks to “give them what they want by tailoring a message that will resonate with the audience.   Nothing wrong with that, except the more valid the message, the less need to edit or otherwise

Do not confuse this with speaking to the comprehension level of your audience.  Do not use hundred-dollar words with a minimum wage crowd – speak in terms they can understand.  The underlying message should be the same.

Be Suspicious

We seek answers and often fall headlong into following the advice of someone who seems knowledgeable and reassures us about the positive outcome in the future.

It feels reassuring to trust others, especially if they seem successful or very sure of their position.  Remember “nitpicky” from earlier?   Now you can let your paranoid side come out  … just a little.

Consider what value accrues to the person if you follow their lead and accept their thoughts or directions.  Think about how they will benefit tomorrow if you act on their advice today.    Here’s a good question to ask:

Will your action affect them in any way?  How?

Well, that’s my short list of what to remember when listening to the experts.  What can you add?

Here’s a few links to articles from sources I trust about this issue:

Beware The Everday Expert from the Harvard Business Review, a respected source for business and leadership thought.
How To Be A Smarter Consumer of Information from the folks at The Emotion Machine, one dandy source of information about things psychological.

Of course now you should be asking yourselves why these articles have any validity.  For that matter you should be questioning this post under a very focused microscope:)

Awaiting the grilling to come in the Heartland ….