Resisting The Need to Be Right

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From appointing a devil’s advocate to admitting you’re wrong.

Written by: Shiv Singh and Dr. Rohini Luthra, co-author’s of Savvy: Navigating Fake Companies, Fake Leaders and Fake News in the Post-Trust Era (Feb 2019)

Studies have shown that we are 70 percent more likely to retweet false news (including Laboratory for Social Machines (LSM) at the MIT Media Lab). In all categories, falsehoods diffused signifi­cantly farther, faster, and deeper than the truth. True stories take about six times as long to reach the same number of people as do false ones. While the effect was most pronounced for false political news, it also included terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends and finan­cial information. Additionally, the spread of false news wasn’t driven by bots as we might like to think but rather by human beings. The research showed that bots spread true and false news at a similar rate.

How can so many of us be that devious or unscrupulous? It is under­standable that in any social media context bad actors will spread false news. However, such a significant variation in the rate at which false news spreads relative to the truth tells us something else. One factor is that fake news is often perceived as more novel than true news—people want to be the first to share information on social media sites in order to build their own social capital. But a strong factor is that we prefer to spread news that fits with our biased views. In this post-trust era, we may not know what is true, but we do know what we like to believe.

We so deeply want to be right that it is more important to us to have evidence that we are right than it is for the so-called evidence itself to be accurate. In this sense, it has become possible to be both more well-informed and more closed-minded at once. That’s a key reason so many of us are active participants in the virality of fake news.

We should all coach ourselves to take good pause before we pass on any bits of scoop we’re thrilled about and ask ourselves, why am I so eager to believe this? Is this just making me feel good, or do I really think it’s credible? The desire to be right is remarkably powerful, but we can teach ourselves to counteract its allure by doing the following:

  1. Ask yourself “what if the opposite was true”: It is not simply enough to ask people to be fair and impartial. Asking them to think about the opposite condition to their own conclusions forces them to reflect and it removes bias.
  2. Appoint people to play “devil’s advocate”: When tasked with making a major decision, set up an alternative team whose responsibility is to justify the opposite conclusion. It will lead you to better solutions.
  3. Form non-traditional allies within your company or among business partners and in the media – people who may not agree with what you do, but respect you and respect the truth even more. It will help remove bias in your own decision making.
  4. Be thoughtful and constructive: Don’t state your correc­tion as a negation of the lie. Introduce the contradictory facts in a thoughtful fashion. Use emotion and present the facts in a non-confrontational, constructive manner to have the most impact.Overcome your naive realism: Just because someone is an expert, doesn’t mean they’re always right. They can also suffer from cognitive biases like naive realism. Recognize the limits of the experts who are advising you and find ways to counter the biases at play.
  5. Recognize your own biases: Widen the aperture of influences that you are exposed to. Find ways to more accurately determine your true competence in a given subject.
  6. Be open to criticism. Find trusted people who can provide you with feedback in a way where the message is heard without it feeling like an attack. It is important to have people surrounding you who don’t agree with everything you say all the time.
  7. Admit you are wrong: If you’re a leader, be willing to admit that you’re wrong sometimes. The more you project yourself as being self-aware, open to alternative viewpoints and willing to change when you’re wrong, the more your company will be too.

The above is excerpted from (2019) Savvy: Navigating Fake Companies, Fake Leaders and Fake News in the Post-Trust Era.

Shiv Singh, founder of Savvy Matters, advises Fortune 500 companies and startups on strategy, marketing and how to succeed in the digital era. He was recognized in 2016 by Adweek as a Top 50 marketer, and he previously served as a Senior Vice President at Visa Inc., where he was responsible for driving the go-to-market strategy for some of the company’s innovative products. He also spent several years in marketing at PepsiCo and Razorfish Inc. He has previously advised Ford Motor Company, Chanel, Genentech, Citibank, and Verizon and is a member of the Board of Directors at United Rentals Inc., a Fortune 500 company. Singh is the author of two books, including, Social Media Marketing for Dummies, holds a BS in Information Systems from Babson College, and an MSc (Research) from the London School of Economics & Political Science.

The new book, co-authored by husband and wife team, Singh and Dr. Rohini Luthra, Savvy: Navigating Fake Companies, Fake Leaders and Fake News in the Post-Trust Era, is now available on Amazon and other fine booksellers.

You can reach Singh at and on Twitter @shivsingh.  

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