What are you basing your decisions on?

As more and more startups, entrepreneurs and VCs discover the value of having an audience, I've begun noticing an interesting trend in writing. Of late I've noticed the proliferation of a new type of blog post which has the sole intent of gaining page views by contradicting someone else.  It would appear that the best way to get people reading your article is to disagree (loudly) with a currently popular article. If I read an article today about how "free is dead", you can bet someone tomorrow will write an article about "how free is very much alive" (in this case, me). Although it's not immediately obvious it really proves to me the old adage "Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see". How can both articles be right if they're completely opposite points of view?

For every article out there that promotes working with remote teams, there is another article that says how horrible it is. In fact, pick any topic, and you'll find an article actively sprouting  the complete opposite point of view. This is a good thing, as it brings to light an important point. They can't both be right, so why are you believing that either is? The simple fact is that regardless of how factual, scientific or logical either article appears, they are almost always anecdotal, personal and opinionated. It's too easy to become brain washed by your RSS feed, and you really need to start questioning everything you read. Opinion does not equal fact, no matter how many followers the author may have! The simple fact is that being opinionated gets you page views. You really need to ask yourself whether the article you're reading is about teaching or about ad revenue. Being right is less about having the facts, and more about sounding like you have the facts. A good writer can have you believe anything they like. How believable their point of view is has more to do with their writing skills than it does with any actual facts they may present. I've often said that the only thing you need to know to be an expert is more than the person you're talking to.

People are sponges, and will absorb some pretty amazing crap if they feel that the person delivering it knows more than they do. It's for this reason that Jeff Goldblum has died several times over, as has Bill Cosby and, most famously, Mark Twain who famously wrote "The report of my death is an exaggeration". What's worse is that it only takes one reputable source to add to the spin, and that false information can quickly become relayed as fact. The greatest example of this that I can think of in recent times is a mockumentary called "Dark Side of the Moon". This is a wonderful piece of film which claims to prove that the moon landing was faked by the CIA with the help of film maker Stanley Kubrick.  Two things made this such a great success. First is the fact that an amazingly large portion of the community already believed this nonsense; Secondly, that it includes interviews with sources such as ex-US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Buzz Aldrin and even Stanley Kubricks widow, Christiane Kubrick. Faced with such well known faces, it is almost hard to NOT believe the story you're being sold. The magic of the documentary is that it gradually gets more and more absurd until you eventually reach your own conclusion that it is, in fact, a hoax... you've been conned. But what if the makers of Dark Side of the Moon never let on that it was a hoax? Millions of viewers would have walked away more convinced than ever that this absurd notion is actually true. Not only that, they would likely discuss their new found facts with others, even in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary.

The simple fact is that people will read, listen, watch and believe without often questioning what they're being told...especially if it is from someone trustworthy. So getting back to our problem; if you read an article and make a decision based on what you've read, how sure are you that the information you're acting on is correct? The biggest complaint against the writings of 37Signals is that it purports to be fact, when in reality, it's based purely on the founders' own experience. Even if I show you stats on how much "method X" improved my sales, that's still just one person with one example. Just because it works for me, doesn't mean it will work for you. Shouldn't you check my theory before implementing it yourself?

So what can you do to stop getting yourself drowning in the ocean of "dumb facts"? Read more of them! If you read an article telling you that you should iterate as fast as possible, find an article that says that slow and steady is the way to go. If you read how meetings are waste of time, find an article on how to make better use of them. If you read that sharing your roadmap is a bad idea, find an article that says transparency is awesome. If you read my article on why Free Plans DO Work, read the article that inspired it. You can't call yourself informed unless you have both sides of the story. And if you can't find a contradictory article on your topic of choice, write your own because there is always another point of view.