kheru2006 (kheru2006) wrote,

Going beyond the truth

It is necessary for innovators to examine and investigate all views and claims thoroughly before accepting them as facts.

I HAVE something exciting to tell you. Do you know if you eat a few melon seeds before going to the gym, your stamina and endurance level will increase by almost 50%?

You can get 50% more exercise done just by munching away on melon seeds. A handful can give you a 70% booster. Now isn’t this something to shout about?

I have offered this tip to almost 20 gym-going friends and relatives so far, and they say that their visits to the gym have become more enjoyable and fulfilling.

My wife says that she returns feeling better and more energetic than she did previously despite working our for longer periods. So far, no one has told me that the melon seed miracle does not work.

I find this very amusing because I made up the claim. The whole idea is a hoax that I have been propagating to see if people will believe claims without any further investigation. Melon seeds do not have any property that magically increases your endurance level, yet not one of the 20 people ever questioned the source of my claim.

I have neither been asked the theory behind the claim nor its source. It has been accepted at face value, as if I have the credentials to make such a claim.

Psychologists will tell you that this is not really surprising. Humans have a habit of asking for advice or opinion from others, who themselves, may need professional advice in the first place.

Would you ask for financial advice from a person who cannot manage her own finances and runs into difficulties before the end of every month? Would you ask for your colleague’s opinion on your career progress when his own career is in the doldrums?

If you have a relationship problem, would you ask the advice of someone who has not been able to hold on to any relationship himself? When trying to create a new product or service, would you rely on the opinions of others who have never innovated anything in their lives?

Let’s get something clear – there are two completely different issues here. The first issue is that opinions and advice must be separated from claims and statements.

While opinions and advice do matter, they must not be confused with claims or statements of fact.

When Marconi commercialised the radio, he believed that it would be used for personal communications. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, thought that his invention would be used to listen to music. Both were opinions – not statements of fact.

As history shows, both men were terribly wrong as the telephone has been a great device for personal communication while the radio, an ideal tool for listening to music broadcasts.

In the 90s, the telecommunications industry introduced SMS as a communications medium for the corporate sector. The entire industry’s opinion was wrong — the biggest success of the SMS technology has been in the teenage market.

The lesson for the innovator is that opinions, beliefs or views cannot be substituted for facts and have to be treated with some level of disbelief — even when they are expressed by experts.

The second issue is one of reliability and credibility — how reliable and credible are the claims or statements that have been made?

Picture an advertisement of a beautiful movie star saying that her looks are due to a particular brand of cosmetics. How many people question the reliability of her statement or claim? How about the advert of a certain brand of rice, depicting a famous TV personality, showing the universal “thumbs up” sign?

If the majority of us questioned such claims, the advertising industry would be in jeopardy and may cease to exist. Advertising works best when the lines between opinions, perceptions and reliability of statements are blurred to such an extent that getting to the truth of the matter becomes impossible.

I recently attended a workshop conducted by one of the top motivation gurus in the world – an acknowledged authority on the subject. He described in great detail and with moving passion how a prisoner escaped death during the holocaust, by burying himself beneath dead bodies that were being transported to a mass grave.

This victim, renowned psychologist Viktor Frankl, lived to tell the tale by crawling out of the grave while the guards were taking a break, or so said the guru.

I decided to check the reliability of the guru’s claim and discovered that Viktor Frankl had written a book that related his escape.

In his book Man’s Search For Meaning, Frankl described his experiences in the Nazi detention camps, and had said that he was liberated by the Allied troops.

The entire claim of being buried underneath dead bodies was made up by this “world-class” motivation guru who charged his participants US$2,000 (RM5,970), to attend the workshop. So much for relying on expert claims.

Perhaps it is a cultural phenomenon – most Asians do not make a habit of questioning the reliability of another’s claim or statement.

This is especially so when the person is an elder or an “expert”. Innovators cannot adopt the approach of accepting claims at face value.

They have to question the reliability and credibility of the claims. They cannot rely solely on industry reports or market research – they have to go to the ground to determine the truth themselves.

No amount of web research, spreadsheet analysis or boardroom discussion, can substitute hearing the message from the horse’s mouth.

Critical thinking is about getting to the heart of the truth, or in the innovator’s context, correctly identifying an opportunity. Very often, it is also about accurately isolating the cause of a problem.

To be successful, an innovator must become a sceptic. He must question the evidence before his eyes. Pictures do lie and dead men can tell tales.

Datuk Dr Kamal Jit Singh is the CEO of Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIM). It is the vanguard for innovation in Malaysia. Established by the Government through an Act of Parliament, AIM will be the driving force behind Malaysia’s push towards establishing an innovation economy.

Source: The STAR Home Education Sunday August 21, 2011

Tags: education

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