Still Looking for a Job?
Despite all the empty promises and ballyhoo about how the trillion-dollar “stimulus package” was going to save the economy from freefall and stave unemployment from reaching 8%, the nation’s jobless rate has already blown past the 10-percent mark—the highest since 1983 and is still climbing. And if you’re among that 10%, nobody has to tell you how much it truly sucks. I know, I was there in ’83– a stack of sheepskins in my hand, a pile of unpaid bills on my kitchen table, a ton of hope and ambition in my heart, and not a damn job in sight.
If you’re out of work, you already know what a cold, lonely, crowded place the world can be. And now, with the economy gasping for breath, you might be getting a little depressed and might be tempted to give up the fight and go into hiding and moping for a while.
Well, I’ve got a little CounterThink strategy that just might screw up your pity-party plans.
Contrary to popular belief, a shitty economy is not a bad time to look for employment. Here’s why…
Most people will stop sending out resumes or seeking interviews when times look bleak because they falsely assume no jobs will be available until the economy revives. As a result, the herd of job seekers will be thinner over the next few months (some economists say it’s gonna be more like “years”), which drastically increases your chances of finding the gig you’ve been searching for.
And a thinner herd is not the only advantage you have going for you during lean times like this. The fact is large companies often scramble to fill positions that have been vacated once they find that the backlog caused by layoffs is causing them more problems then the burden of added payroll, and the same is true with the government and with government contractors.
Small businesses are also looking to make some changes in the ranks during tight times as well. Savvy business owners are looking for a competitive advantage over their rivals and cutting out the organizational “dead wood” is a great way to do it. If you play your cards right, the Dead Wood’s loss is your gain.
As the owner of many small businesses and an employer of a combined workforce that numbers around the four digits mark, I have always used the lull of the economy to reevaluate the effectiveness and value of my current employees. I’ve made my best hires during the the toughest economic times. And now is no exception. Plus, many businesses–like ours–are absolutely kicking ass in the current “depression.”
A little CounterThink goes a long way in times like these. The masses will give up in masses when times look rough. Use this fact that to your advantage. As a CounterThinker, your actions will be automatically multiplied—helping you to cut through the noise and stand out in the crowd—which is a good thing.
The fact is, there’s never a wrong time to look for your next job, so stay focused and positive, and quit following the herd.
Who is John Galt?2
I’m closing in on another birthday.
Maybe it’s because I’m fast approaching older-than-dirt status, and the naïveté and gullibility of youth is all but sloughed off, or maybe it’s because I just finished reading a bone-headed column in the New York Times written by a an even bigger bone-headed economist who suggests that we should all simply ignore the National Debt, which is now rapidly approaching $14,000,000,000,000,000.00 (and, my dear CounterThinkers, that grandiose, unimaginable total is the invoice due– before–the two-thousand-five humdred page ObamaCare bill takes it’s toll), but I’m beginning to get a bit troubled by the prevailing thought of the idiot masses that we can somehow borrow and spend our way into prosperity. And that we can do so with no thought for being eventually economically Shanghaied by the Chinese, who have been gobbling up US debt and assets like Queen Latifah at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
In the mid 1970’s one of my many odd jobs in collage was driving for a local Limo company. I had only been with the company a few months when I got an interesting gig—although, after a few go-rounds, it did take on a creepy Groundhog-Day-like feeling .
On the second Tuesday of every month for the entire two years I worked there, I would drive a 20-passenger van to the corner of Mott and Canal streets in New York’s Chinatown where I would pick up a sixty-something, only-slightly graying Chinese gentleman by the name of Lin. Together, Lin and I would drive to Kennedy International Airport where we would fill the van with a group of middle-aged, identically dressed and appointed Chinese men—each man donned in a boxy navy-blue suit, white shirt and dark-blue tie, carrying a plain, small black leather valise in one hand and a just-as-plain black leather briefcase in the other. In the briefcase, each man had a note pad, cassette recorder and an Instamatic camera.
From the airport, I would drive Lin and his group to various, well-known businesses in the tri-state area—manufacturing companies, pharmaceutical houses, shopping malls and the like—where they would spend the day taking notes and making pictures.
Lin wasn’t what you’d call a chatterbox; he was a very formal and proper man who took some time to get close to. In fact, it wasn’t till, maybe a year or so into our monthly routine that I finally felt comfortable enough with him to ask him what the deal was with our monthly excursions and all these different groups of men.
As it turned out, Lin was a kind of a tour organizer for the Chinese government, and as he explained it, the men were Chinese business scholars intent on studying the American ways of doing business—hence all the picture-taking, note-writing and dictation.
The closer I got to Lin, the deeper and more philosophical our conversations grew. I once joked with him about the “scholars” saying, “So basically, they’re ripping off all our best ideas.” It was the first time I ever remember seeing Lin laugh.
My stupid joke actually led us into a deep discussion about the differences in eastern and western thought. Lin drew the distinction between east and west with a simple definition of a commonly used term: “In America, as in most of the Western world,” Lin began. “You consider a five or ten year plan to be ‘long-range’. In China we plan for how our actions will affect those three generations from now.” It was then that Lin told me of his countryman’s goal of worldwide economic domination in the next 100 years. It would begin, Lin said, with the feeding of the world-market’s insatiable hunger for cheap goods, and end with China owning the world’s debt:
“The country that controls the world’s debit, controls the world’s economy.”
Was Lin just yanking my chain? Hell, I don’t know. Look, I’m no economist, but it looks to me like the plan Lin talked about nearly 30-years ago is solidly in place and well ahead of schedule.
Someone please tell me, what the hell happens when the National Debt exceeds the National GDP? Can we really be stupid and gullible enough to believe that we can borrow our way into prosperity? Don’t we have to pay back the money that we’re borrowing on all those bonds at some time? How? By confiscating yet another 10% of the hard-earned wages from an already overburdened, freakishly stressed out taxpayer-populous—who are still lucky enough to have jobs—like they just did in California, or maybe by borrowing more money from the Chinese?
I don’t know, maybe I’m doing that “Chicken Little” thing, or maybe my lack of Ivy League ecomomic cradentials is keeping me from understanding the obvious complexities of National Policy, or maybe it’s just the effects of the 70′s catching up to me… But this all sounds like the same kind of Ponsi scheme that landed Bernie Madoff in jail.
But then again, Madoff wasn’t a member of congress and immune to prosecution.
Compare America today with Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” and the similarities are unmistakable. We have been on the “Decline” slop for the last few decades and now we’re perched near the edge of the cliff—only inches away from the seemingly inevitable Fall.
And I’m sure it was just coincidence that the Empire State Building here in Manhattan—one of America’s symbols for free enterprise—was recently lit-up in red and yellow Chinese colors in celebration of China’s communist revolution and the 60th anniversary of the bloody communist takeover.
Me? I’m thinking about checking into Betty Ford for help in breaking my Dollar Store addiction and then heading off to the New School to study Mandarin.
But then again, who is John Galt?
Our Recent Summer Vacation0
Normal people take vacations…
We use our “downtime” to take on select member projects that tickle our interest.
Below are a few that we thought might tickle you…
This first one is a promotional video produced and directed by the “Big Guy” himself.
It was produced for CounterThink Tank Inner-circle Member, Anthony P. Colandro “Gun Trainer to the Stars” who operates Gun For Hire Training Academy, just across the river from Midtown Manhattan here in the United States…
Making this video was a real “blast” (sorry)
This next video is a trailer for an upcoming interview with Counterthink Legacy Member, Art Williams, Founder of A.L. Williams Corporation It was shot on location in Highlands North Carolina (at a beautiful resort that Art owns).
And the one below we did as a spoof for the “Big Guy”… Just for fun.
The problem is that He loved it! And now he plans on using it as his new promotional video to introduce him at live events– How Crazy is that? It’s so Typical Berardi…
The Decision Paradox: Do What’s Right or What Feels Good?0
It’s a fact: most decisions are based on bias.
A person will be usually inclined to believe something that has a positive emotional effect— that makes him feel good, or supports his pre-conceived beliefs— even if there is strong evidence to the contrary. Likewise, a person may be reluctant to accept hard facts that are unpleasant, or may cause him mental suffering. Neuroscientists call this trait emotional bias. And it results in our inability to think straight and make good decisions.
Sure. Many of us would like to think otherwise—that we’re exceptions to the rule, that our decisions are rooted in logic rather than emotion. But the truth is, what we’re typically doing is justifying our emotional decisions, with logical afterthought. In other words, we make an emotional decision then use whatever logic we can dredge up to back up that decision.
Emotional bias is a part of the human condition, and it becomes nearly intractable in times of extreme stress and in the face of monumental disasters— like the one we’re witnessing in Haiti.
The problem with emotionally biased decisions is they cause us to do things that are exactly opposite of what we should be doing—often exacerbating the problem rather than solving it.
In the days following the earthquake, those involved in relief efforts – including Brazilian peacekeepers and Haitian government officials, spent way too much time dealing with emotionally driven issues rather than with logical ones.
The emotional impact of seeing bodies littering the streets and stacked high like cordwood can be devastatingly traumatizing. But contrary to what one might believe, the bodies of the dead pose no appreciable health risk to the living. Yet in situations like these, emotions rule decisions. The result? Precious resources and manpower that should be used in saving lives, tend instead, to be diverted to tending to the dead. And such is the reality in Haiti.
Despite lessons learned from previous humanitarian disasters, and in direct opposition to advice given by the World Health Organization and other public health experts— who urged relief teams to focus on saving lives and on providing food, clean water, shelter, sanitary toilet facilities and medical assistance— relief workers on the ground instinctively and predictably yielded to human emotion and diverted a precious percentage of their limited resources and manpower to burying the dead. According to Carol Joseph, a government minister, the authorities have already buried 70,000 bodies in mass graves, and plan on continuing their efforts.
The real public health dangers in Haiti, at this time, are not the mounting bodies. The real risks come from cholera, malaria, dengue fever, hepatitis, dysentery, and even from common diarrhea (the second most common cause of infant deaths worldwide), as well as respiratory infections exacerbated by overcrowding.
So far, epidemiological surveillance along the border with the Dominican Republic, where thousands of people have fled, has not yet shown an increase in infectious disease, but without some straightforward CounterThinking and a little logical intervention, that’s sure to change.
To save the lives of survivors, rescue workers need to concentrate their actions and resources on the treatment of trauma, and expand access to surgical care, safe water, antibiotics to treat infections, and simple painkillers to ease the suffering of the injured. And then they have to try to circumvent future problems by giving mass immunizations for infections such as tetanus.
CounterThink often demands doing the unthinkable. In this case, the unthinkable would be to ignore the growing mountains of human corpses and move on as if they weren’t there. Here, CounterThink, means going against one’s immediate gut reaction; taking urgent, logical and simple steps to help the living, not tend to the dead—as distasteful, and traumatic, and barbaric as that may seem. That’s exactly what should happen, but history tells us, that’s exactly what will not.
And more will die so others might feel good.
What Are You About?0
CounterThink is about sticking your head above the crowd—about getting recognized above all others. Most products and businesses are about nothing. They blend in. Great businesses and products are about something. They stand for something, promote something, strive for something—other than simply making another sale.
In the cluttered, white bread world of sandwich shops Subway became about weight loss—using a testimonial storyline about Jared Fogle.
As a student at Indiana University, Jared Fogel weighed in at 425 pounds. In March of 1998 he began a novel weight loss plan of his own design. The plan consisted of skipping breakfast, eating a 6-inch Subway turkey sub—sans the mayo and cheese—along with baked chips and a diet Coke for lunch and a 12-inch veggie sub (again, no cheese or mayo) with a diet coke for dinner.
Fogel lost 94 pounds in the first three months and after adding exercise, he dropped another 245 in the next year.
In April of 1999 the university’s newspaper, the Indiana Daily Student, did a story on his remarkable weight loss The story, which was later picked up by the Associated Press and Men’s Health magazine, caught the attention of some sharp marketers at Subway, who approached Fogel to screen test as a pitchman for the brand. The initial television commercial featuring Fogel rolled out in the Midwest and indeed struck a cord with consumers. Voila. Subway pokes its head out from the crowd and captures the attention of a new market segment.
More recently Post, makers of Shredded Wheat cereal launched a truly innovative campaign, against of all things, innovation. The TV, print and electronic media campaign, targeting technophobes and the growing segment of progress-resistant geezers and boomers, features fictional character, Frank Druffel, as spokesman. Duffel’s pitch: “We put the NO in innovation.”
The Shredded Wheat campaign is CounterThink in action. The strategy they use—leading with the homely truth, and turning a negative into a positive— is a tactic made famous by my friend Joe Sugarman, and used brilliantly by the marketers at Post. And while the bulk of breakfast cereal marketers trip over one another to dominate to the kids, teens, tweens and twenty-something markets, Post is heading in the opposite direction—targeting the somewhat slower-moving, fiber-challenged, AARP-ers (which by the way, happens to be the fastest-growing market segment with the greatest amount of disposable cash).
CounterThinking marketers turn their products, services and companies into something of significance—they are about something. But they are not about just any ol’ damn thing.
Subway turned sub sandwiches (which have been historically thought of as a favorite nosh of the chronically obese) into weight loss. And Post joined in on the conversation that’s going on inside every technophobe’s head by taking potshots at innovation. These strategies are not the same as when Cheerios tried to position itself as the self-proclaimed poster child of the “heart smart” movement, or when Quiznos tried to claim that true sandwich innovation could be found under a toaster.
In the case of Cheerios, General Mills drastically misunderstood the principles of CounterThink when they tried to turn cereal (which those of us who grew up in the post-60’s, toy-in-the-bottom-of-the-box era used to think of as something fun) into life insurance (which ain’t much fun at all). Quiznos didn’t do much better. A toasted sandwich is, well… a toasted sandwich. Not different enough to poke its head above the crowd.
CounterThink is not just different—it’s radically different, like transplanting mismatching, incompatible hearts into babies—a groundbreaking, lifesaving practice pioneered by CounterThinker, Dr. Lori West, that is totally revolutionizing the thinking in transplant medicine, or treating patients with drugs that initially make them sicker in order to eventually make them well—a strategy termed Paradoxical Pharmacology by CounterThinker, Dr. Richard Bond, of the University of Houston, or like the counterintuitive, controversial work of British traffic safety engineer Ben Hamilton Baillie who is making traffic intersections much, much safer by making them very, very dangerous.
All of these amazing CounterThinkers are inner-circle members of the CounterThink Tank and living examples of why getting on the CounterThink Tank membership waiting list should be the top item on your priority list.
We anticipate our general membership will re-open soon after the first of the year.
If you’re serious about learning the principles of CounterThink and networking with other great CounterThinkers like yourself from all over the world… get on the list!
Send me an email, with “membership wait-list” in the subject line, and we’ll let you know when spots become available.
You call THAT Marketing?0
In my last CounterThink marketing post we looked at defining your market—as in: Who is your market?
We saw how mainstream thinking causes us to view our market way too narrowly, focusing on the decision maker— the actual consumer of our products and services. As a result, we spend too much of our time, energy and money trying to reach that decision maker.
I showed you how, CounterThinker Ray Kroc, through his clown of a mascot, built a hamburger empire by reaching a whole new group of people—those who may not have had the money or ability to buy what he was selling, but had the power to influence the buying decision of the people who did.
This week, as we further examine how CounterThink affects marketing, I want to change your thinking about the term “marketing” itself.
How do you define Marketing? Do you think about marketing as being simply a function of sales and advertising? Do you think of it more creatively? More Expansively? How you define marketing can have a dramatic impact on how well your business is doing.
Walt Disney, another great CounterThinker, looked at picking up litter, scraping chewing gum off of sidewalks and the much-talked-about nightly routine of repainting all the fenceposts in the park, not as a function of maintenance, but as a function of marketing.
Imagine a father of three, sitting on the edge of the bed in his hotel room picking melted chewing gum out of the crevices of his favorite pair of sneakers with a bent coat hanger, after having just spent a long, exhausting day and 700 bucks— on admission, food, snacks, drinks, ice cream and souvenirs. I don’t care how much fun the family had that day, the last thing that guy’s going to remember about the happiest place on earth before he lays his weary, overspent head on the pillow is that damn chewing gum.
Disney knew that the physical appearance of an establishment plays an important psychological role in the customer’s perception of the overall experience. And Ray Kroc felt the same way.
The success architect of the Mc Donald’s empire once described consistency and clean restrooms as “marketing.” Although, during my last visit to the Golden Arches, it became glaringly apparent that Kroc’s latter concept might not have been fully grasped by his successors.
Look, I don’t care what Richard Carlson’s goofy book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” says. As far as I’m concerned, not sweating the small stuff is great advice for the Masses of Asses who will strive for mediocrity and barely attain even that much. If you want to rise to the top, in any endeavor, you’ve gotta sweat the small stuff.
“Little hinges swing big doors.”
As CounterThinker, W. Clement Stone, the self-made billionaire-philanthropist and father of the Positive Mental Attitude movement—best known for his trademark pencil-thin mustache and flamboyant bow ties— used to say, “Little hinges swing big doors.” And swing them they do—either open or closed, depending on your attention to detail.
People are drawn to CounterThink live events and seminars, to my newsletter and to this column because they want to expand their thinking, their income, their business, and their opportunities. But I find that the majority of people’s thinking—especially, the way they think about the way they think— is way too limited.
Here, we’re talking specifically about marketing. And as usually is the case, the context in which most people think about marketing is waaaay too narrow.
Generally, too little thought is given to things like: the physical appearance of the business— the consistent spotlessness of the tabletops, seats, ketchup bottles, windows and restrooms. What does the outside of the building look like as potential customers approach—is it clean and inviting? Does it appear safe and well-lit? And how about the package you’re shipping out? How does that package look when it gets into the customers hands— after having made its way through the shipping process?
I recently bought a few pairs of very expensive athletic socks ($90 a pair) from an online vendor. The socks arrived in a plain white, Tyvek envelope and the product boxes inside were crushed beyond recognition.
Yeah, I know, they’re socks… and crushing a pair of socks isn’t gonna hurt ‘em. But the damn socks were ninety-bucks a pair! And what really got me goin’ was the packing list crammed inside the crumpled box that read: “Packed with Care by George W.” Ya gotta be kiddin’ me, right?
So, even though there’s nothing wrong with the product itself—I actually really like the way the socks perform—I’m already searching out a new vendor for my next four pairs. With one simple, little screw-up that business lost a potentially good customer. And unless he’s reading this article, the owner may never figure out why—worth thousands of dollars in lifetime sales (see the chapter on calculating Lifetime Customer Value in my “Managing by the Numbers” series). I’m just guessing here, but I don’t think that’s the outcome the marketer had in mind.
How about testimonials? Do you use them to their utmost? Testimonials, as those of you have been following me already know, are the lifeblood of marketing. Without properly structured testimonials—from happy customers who are already enjoying the benefits of your goods or services—you’re leaving the bulk of your prospects unconvinced.
A lot of savvy marketers use testimonials, but most really fall short in their full context and application. A few CounterThink strategies include using testimonials on your invoices, statements and even on your collection and dunning letters. I’ve proven in my own businesses that testimonials actually improve collections on receivables and reduce delinquent accounts.
Do you routinely include a photo of your smiling customer—having fun with, and enjoying the benefits of your product or service? How about video and audio testimonials? Do you record your customer’s impromptu feedback after just experiencing your product or service for later use on DVD, Websites and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and You Tube?
Do you keep testimonials coming even after the sale has been made, the service has been delivered and the product has been consumed? Doing so will serve to enhance the new customer’s perception of satisfaction with the buying experience—they see and hear all the great things others are saying, and feel as if they should feel the same way. The continued, diligent practice also results in less returns and refunds. Testimonials should be included in everything you put out to the public. And they are so important we’ve started working on a new educational program in the CounterThink Marketing Series— Marketing with Testimonials. (If you’re interested in participating in the research, or want to reserve a pre-release copy, drop me an email: sandy@counterthink.TV)
People love surprises. So, do you give them a little surprise when they buy from you? Is there a little something waiting for them—Cajuns call it lagniappe—that appears with seemingly random regularity, like the 13th roll in a baker’s dozen?
My wife owns, among other businesses, a specialty niche boutique for women. She gave me a little resistance when I first suggested that she start handing out pieces of individually-wrapped gourmet, European chocolate to everyone who came into the store—the expensive kind, not those crappy little kisses.
I can understand her reluctance. After all, with an average transaction of $36 and a candy cost of about $1 a piece, it hardly made any sense—from a bottom-line standpoint—especially when I insisted that her salespeople also hand out chocolate to shoppers who didn’t buy a thing, or even to those who came in to return a previous purchase. But I’m a CounterThinker, not a bean counter, so it made perfect sense to me. Here’s why…
Chocolate is the No. 1 most craved food, and women are the ones most likely to crave it. The sugar in chocolate triggers the release of a nerve chemical called serotonin that results in an overall sense of well-being. The sweet taste also releases endorphins in the brain, giving us an immediate euphoric rush. The pure cocoa butter in good, expensive chocolate gives it a velvety-rich texture and the high cocoa content enhances the flavor and aroma—stimulating yet another nerve chemical called galanin—which satisfies our fat craving and provides what scientists have termed, a moment of ecstasy.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine— compounds that provide an instant mental boost, and phenylethylamine—which stimulates the nervous system, increases blood pressure and heart rate, and is said to produce feelings similar to that of an orgasm.
As a marketer, I can’t think of any better feeling I’d want my customers to associate with my business. So, the way I figure it, a nice piece of chocolate just might keep them coming…ya know, back.
So far, the little chocolate experiment has been quite a hit.
It’s all about looking at marketing in a broader, more creative context then one would typically feel is necessary. That’s what makes it CounterThink, and that’s what makes it work so damn well.
One of the things I’ll keep doing here is trying to expand the way you think about everything—including your business, your opportunities and your possibilities. And in the coming weeks, months and years you’ll find an eclectic mix of ideas, examples and strategies—some of which, I suppose, you might expect, and hopefully a few that you might not.
Who is your market?0
As a kid, I watched a clown who lived in a house with golden arches launch a worldwide fast-food empire.
He did it, not by listening to the marketing experts of the time, who advised him to be sure to target the decision makers, but by winning the hearts of “champions” all across America.
The clown found his champions watching Saturday morning cartoons, and impressed on their growing little minds the idea that a toy should be included with the purchase of every hamburger and fries.
The clown knew that these little champions had neither the money nor the ability to purchase what he was selling, but he also knew that each of his champions rode in the back seat of a car driven by a decision maker who had both the money and the ability.
The clown realized what most experts had missed—he knew that when the time came for the decision maker to make a decision, his champion would spring into action and influence the decision maker’s decision. And with that, an unshakable burger-empire was born.
I’ve warned you not to fall into the same trap that hobbles most of the marketing mainstream—thinking you must always target the decision maker in your marketing. But many of you still insist on riding that train to its inevitable dead end.
Perhaps it’s because mainstream sales trainers and advertising salespeople have long insisted that the first step in making a sale is to reach the decision maker: “Don’t waste time on people who have no authority.”
The result of this horrible advice has been that marketers habitually ignore the friendly and readily accessible champions who could make the job of selling so incredibly easy — the secretary, the file clerk, the husband, the wife, the golfing buddy, the kids, or the friend of a friend.
But never try to target a champion! Nobody likes to feel like they’re being used. Simply realize that champions are all around you, every day. And all you need to do is tell your very convincing and compelling story to anyone and everyone who will listen to it. You never know whom that person might know.
While it has always been difficult to reach the person who has final authority to make a decision, reaching all the people around that person is usually incredibly easy. And if just one of these people is deeply impressed with your story, they will carry your message and your cause to the one who makes the decisions.
We call the process word-of-mouth. And it only works when it is not contrived. When you ask a person to talk to their boss for you, you’ve just killed the magic.
Contrary to popular belief: Success is not about who you know, it’s about who knows you.
How many strangers do you impress with your story each day? Have you been ignoring all the friendly, powerful champions that surround you? Have you mistakenly assumed that they couldn’t help you because they don’t have the money, authority or ability to buy whatever it is you’re selling?
Are you proud of the product or service you sell? If so, then talk about it, shout about it… write about. Even if the people who are listening all seem to be small potatoes.
Looking for a really neat way to tell your story without seeming like you’re pushy or only trying to sell something to somebody? Take a look at our new, soon to be released, “CounterThink Marketing—Marketing with Newsletters” program. Used right, newsletters can convince like no other—they can tell your story, over and over, in an informative, friendly non-threatening way. Who knows, you might be the next clown to create an empire of your own.
What do you believe about:
The War on Drugs?
And the Real Housewives of Loompaland?
What interests me is that most people who argue strong opinions about one thing or another don’t argue from a position of real knowledge.
Typically, people making the loudest argument don’t usually have a fist full of data that supports their position. What I mean is, they themselves have not collected data from glacier ice core samples, or traveled with drug mules, or visited the mythical South Pacific island of Loompa to watch the Real Housewives in action.
Hell, most people shouting about global warming (climate change, or whatever the buzzword of the day is) won’t even bother to google up the latest statistics on polar bear population density, or stop to think about how much artifactual heat those original electronic temperature-measuring devices— that we’re basing all of our current comparative data on— gave off.
I’m not picking on the global warming folks, either. The same can be said about the majority of folks who hold a strong opinion about one thing or another. Most won’t dare to look on the other side of their argument and risk having to deal with inconvenient, errant facts that might disrupt their already formed conclusions.
So, why don’t average people think like that? Who do you know that’s got that kind of time?
Besides, most people simply don’t think—they rely on others to do their thinking for them. I’m not throwing stones here; I’m just stating a fact about human nature that the author Malcolm Gladwell so brilliantly revealed in his book Blink.
The average person is totally dependent on the trend of thought of the masses— or whatever so-called experts are saying is happening, and what they say about what it all means.
But, as we’ve seen with the recent Climategate scandal, those experts might be bending the truth to fit their own personal assumptions and adgendas, or they themselves may be relying on what they have learned from others— who were merely stating, unquestioningly, what they assume to be true. Take for example the much-quoted statistics regarding gun seizures in Mexico.
Back in the spring of ’09, president Obama told the nation that ninety-percent of the illegal guns seized in Mexico came from gun shops in the United States. That’s a figure that could have bolstered the argument anti-gun supporters and the beliefs held by some of the gun-control advocates on both sides of the border. That is, if it were true.
The real number turned out to be somewhere closer to 17%. But that hasn’t stopped politicians and the press from perpetuating the misinformation. In a December 1, 2009 article for Government Executive titled, Guns & Drugs, writer Katherine McIntire Peters, who as a professional journalist, should know better, perpetuated the myth:
“A less frequently cited figure is equally alarming to anyone living south of the border: Ninety percent of the weapons seized from the drug cartels by Mexican authorities are traced to the United States. While the cartels are moving drugs north, arms traffickers are moving guns south. It’s a symbiotic relationship that threatens security in both countries.”
Given the lack of verifiable data from Mexico, the hidden political agendas on both sides of the border, and the fact that most of the recovered weapons have no intact serial numbers, we really can’t calculate a precise figure for what portion of crime guns have been traced to the U.S. And then, consider that neither the Mexican or US government has made account for the number of weapons that have been legally purchased from U.S. Manufactures by Mexican police and military which eventually end up in the hands of the drug cartels when Mexican soldiers and police defect to the side of the drug lords, and you’ll get an idea of how difficult a task it is to get at a real true number. Of course, pro-gun people want the real number to be lower and anti-gun people want it to be higher. But it’s not about what we want to be true that should influence our thinking– it needs to be about what actually is true.
And remember the hullabaloo about H1N1 being the worst pandemic since 1918? Well, as it turns out, the apocalyptic predictions popularized by government “experts” and fueled by the 24-hour news networks never came to fruition— as reported in a December 8th story in the LA Times: Swine flu may be mildest pandemic ever, researchers say.
Back when I was a neophyte studying epidemiology, I had a professor who told us: Never believe the first report. Good advice, then. Good advice, now.
As Malcolm Gladwell showed us, this shortcut thinking is common— across the board— for all things we have no firsthand expertise in. The vast majority of people who confidently hold a position on, say, the war on terror, or evolution, or the proposition that more gun laws equal less crime, or the best way to treat a Lymphangiosarcoma are likely entirely reciting hearsay they picked up in the form of sound bites from some Authority on MSNBC, BBC, Popular Science, Oprah or Acta Oncologica.
The average person has a certain group of people whose word they trust and they repeat as if it were documented fact. Most people I know have never personally looked through a telescope or microscope, unraveled the human gnome, examined a core sample of a polar icecap, or analyzed the historical, comparative data between the passage of new gun restrictions and the instance of violent crime. And wouldn’t know what they were looking at if they did.
As a general rule, people circumvent analytical thinking (which takes time and involves learning something new) and opt, instead, for shortcut thinking: we trust what each other tells us, and rely on group consensus and the collective opinions of others to help us navigate our way through a lot of our own day-to-day problems.
We suddenly need a surgeon, or a trial lawyer, or a good housekeeper. What do we do? We ask our friends and associates (very few of which are qualified experts on evaluating the competencies of surgeons, litigators or domestic help) and we then make our decision based on their recommendations: the guy who pumps gas down at the local Petrol station says Dr. Testeze is the top urologist in town…
In other words, the average person behaves exactly like human beings tend to behave. Which is why, as CounterThinkers, it’s critical for us to do the opposite—to think things through from beginning to end, to examine the flip-side of every argument, to test against the current best practices, to do our own research whenever possible, to question everything—including conventional wisdom, accepted practices and venerated beliefs, and at the very least, verify the validity of the information we are relying on.
And if you promise that you’ll do so, I can confidently promise you that you’ll be far more effective at whatever you do, and be much more likely to find a new and exciting way to make more money or solve a nagging problem that’s been forever getting in your way…
…and I also promise, I won’t make you think about the twisted sexual proclivities of a chocolate factory owner who will only employ men who dress in skins, whose wives dress in leaves and whose kids run around naked.