There's been a flurry of conversations and media commentary about the "information echo chamber" this past month. Data, experts and pundits, social media, and other information are often unreliable, and in some instances, wrong. It has sparked discussion about today's modern tools and platforms, and what we can (or shouldn't) count on.

We are in an era where news and information moves faster and more abundantly than ever. Virtually anyone can create a platform to distribute content. Technology enables us to hear consumer opinion in greater ways. Data can be aggregated, analyzed - and all of this is heavily reviewed and utilized.

We're also drawn to what we agree with, what feels familiar -- many times without realizing it. We often lose objectivity.

It's an important lesson in business. Echo chambers exist in the halls and offices of many companies of all sizes and types - and need to be avoided. Here's how:

  • Cast a wide net - We all have go-to sources for information, and value what data we feel matters. Expand your snapshot with a bigger picture. Read what your employees and customers are reading. Listen to your competitors. Go wider than your industry and market new sources.
  • Consider the source - Fake news and media outlets have been rampant this past year, and PR spin is a common tactic. Take in what you see and hear objectively, avoid face value. Consume content and opinion, but draw conclusions based on multiple sources, perspectives and facts.
  • Remember algorithms - Algorithms and aggregators across social networks and the internet can make it easy to access news - but it can also create an illusion of massive attention on a particular story or slant that isn't entirely authentic. You don't have to know how these technologies work, just know they're in operation.
  • Recognize "Link Bait" - Headlines can sell the story - or not. This power has only increased in the new era of digital media. It can make a story or event seem more sensational, or take a specific angle intended entirely to draw attention. Know "link bait" when you see it.
  • Avoid the hive - Emotions and passion can run deep around news and happenings, and we've all seen the crowd swarms that can rise when an issue hits hot buttons or mainstream interest. Resist the urge to jump on the bandwagon, even when you hold a deep concern or opinion about what's going on. Hold true to your beliefs, but stay neutral to popular opinion.
  • Question everything - We're less apt to cast a skeptical eye on things we agree with or feel attachment to. But this can have real consequence. It can empower fake news and misinformation, and allows unreliable sources and PR efforts to take a greater root in forming an impression.
  • Read, don't scan - Everyone consumes at least some digital content online, and information moves at lightening speed. Many of us skim media and data, or consume it with only a portion of attention. It's fine to take a glance at what's going on, but set aside time to dig deeper before forming perspective.
  • Tune out - It can become so easy to get sucked into the mainstream opinion and fall down the rabbit hole with content. But this can make your emotions run higher and increase susceptibility to fake news and information. Resist hyper-checking social network pages or smartphone for updates.
  • Finally, have empathy - We are not all in the same shoes as entrepreneurs, customers, employees or consumers. But the situations we all face, and how we feel about it, play a very big role in our behavior and choices. Seeing the viewpoint of those around you can pay off.

At Simple Mills, I make it a point to ensure open communication and open information among our teams and leadership. We tap our employees regardless of age or position for input and ideas, to give everyone a chance to weigh in - and gain insight.

To be truly successful in identifying and responding to market trends, you have to pull together and synthesize your own raw information instead of relying on high-level trend information that is recycled through multiple news sources.