2 Steps to a Better BS Detector
Malarkey, baloney, nonsense: whatever you want to call it, the business world is sadly full of it.
Self-proclaimed "experts" loudly trumpet half-baked ideas, salespeople tout products that are mismatched for your business as your saving grace, and potential partners shop schemes that sound vaguely good on paper but are light on details. Sorting the golden from the gilded horse pucky could mean the difference between your business’s success and failure.
Some folks, as we all know, seem to have been born with an unerring instinct for plain dealing. Others could benefit from a bit of fine tuning of the old BS detector, but identifying nonsense is a rarely taught skill. Consistently interesting blog Farnam Street recently filled that gap, offering a simple two-pronged approach to boosting your ability to tell the truth from “truthiness.”
Technique 1: Ask Why
"Simply ask people to walk you through their thinking. Why do you think that? Walk me through your logic," advises Farnam Street’s Shane Parrish. "Over the years, I’ve found that simply asking why and listening to the quality of the response is the best bullshit filter. If answers come back in cliches and generalizations, that’s an indication that more thinking is needed."
Technique 2: Define Success
"The second thing is to simply ask people to define success in clear and unambiguous terms before something gets underway. If you’re taking on a new project or starting a new service, you clearly expect some outcome, right? So it should be somewhat logical that you’ll be able to say we expect X, Y, and Z to happen and if they don’t then this will be considered a failure," he writes, adding "I think you’d be surprised at the number of people who prefer to throw a dart at the wall and then draw a bullseye around it. Or, then again, maybe you wouldn’t."
Parrish may be the most recent commentator to try and beat back the BS with actionable advice, but he’s not the only one with tips on the topic. Venture capitalist Don Rainey also offered a half dozen techniques a few years ago. Nonsense continues to flood the business world, and his suggestions still stand. They include determining the speaker’s self-interest, questioning the source and validity of data, and watching out for declarations of truth like “let’s be frank” (which are actually generally indicators of intellectual dishonesty). Check out all his ideas here.
Do you agree that BS detection is a key business skill?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.