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Seeking 'Truthiness' in Information
Thursday, 15th November 2012
With journalism in disarray, news distribution channels changing and simple human error, business research that results in reliable competitive or market intelligence is more difficult to conduct than ever. The foundation for successful research and analysis can be expressed in simple terms: Right Skill Set, Right Mind Set and Right Reports.
With journalism in disarray, news distribution channels changing and simple human error, business research that results in reliable competitive or market intelligence is more difficult to conduct than ever. These are not entirely new challenges – truth could never be taken for granted – and information professionals possess the necessary competencies to manage them. The foundation for successful research and analysis can be expressed in simple terms: Right Skill Set, Right Mind Set and Right Reports.
The focus here is about everyday occurrences of 'truthiness' (pandering to confirmation bias), 'proofiness' (misuse of statistics) and plain old human errors that never get corrected or retracted. It is often specific factual errors that distort our understanding of a market – as when a market share of 50% gets reported as 5% – or fog competitive intelligence – as when a press release announces production from a new factory, but describes machinery that can only be used for making something else. Right Skill Set and Right Mind Set can help us detect such errors, and Right Reports will communicate to our clients something of the effort that goes into successful research.
Right Skill Set
Besides being expert in constructing effective searches in databases and on the Internet, knowing something about where Web sites and publications get their content is an important tool in our skill set. Which sources should we be especially careful with and which can we trust?
For instance, press releases – which are always crafted to further the agenda of the issuing organisation – feed the 24 hour news cycle, usually without vetting and – although indispensable to business research – do come with some strings attached.
Right Mind Set
The Right Mind Set is sceptical. Scepticism means being actively conscious of the possibility of error. Mistakes are made regularly in almost every news or data channel, and very few mistakes ever result in a correction or retraction. But we'd become full-time fact checkers if we had to verify every data point in the news sources we use. The Right Mind Set leads to identifying those facts that are most strategically important.
Keep your skills fresh, develop the right mind set - and then selectively put your accumulated knowledge, hunches and questions into your report to your client. Candidly explaining challenges encountered in the research process will give clients a richer understanding of the topic and can position you in a consultative role and open up the opportunity to continue the relationship with the client.
FreePint Subscribers can read more about 'truthiness' in news. Log in to view Three Fundamentals for Business Research in the Post-Truth Era.
By Cynthia Lesky
Cynthia Lesky is President and founder of Threshold Information, a business and technology research firm. Threshold's information specialists answer business, science and technology questions and produce current awareness products for corporate clients in food, pharmaceutical, electronics and other industries. Information centers are Threshold's preferred clients, but in companies that are not served by internal information professionals, Threshold works with market research, competitive intelligence, product development, strategy and other functions. Threshold is located near Chicago, Illinois (US).
Prior to forming Threshold in 1993, Cynthia held information services positions in the food and banking industries. Cynthia has a Master's degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois and a Bachelor's degree in economics and business management. Memberships include SLA, where she has held several offices and committee memberships, The Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP), IFT and SCIP. She is currently President of KM Chicago.
Cynthia can be reached at Cynthia.Lesky@threshinfo.com.
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