Wisdom and Fake Fact Checking

I recently wrote about the importance of having background information at your fingertips when seeking to make wiser decisions faster. So, the story I heard recently about “fake fact checkers” admittedly shook me up.

I am accustomed to calls for evidence-based decision-making in my line of work. Yet the whole notion of “evidence” risks being undermined in our current climate and culture. What does it mean to make a truly wise decision in this era of unabashed misinformation and fake news?

I’m not sure there is a single answer that applies to all situations. I would say that wisdom incorporates [reliable] evidence, then goes beyond it to add insight. The dictionary definition of wisdom incorporates elements of experience, knowledge and good judgement.

But how do we access those qualities when working as a group?

One strategy I frequently employ is to help a group articulate how to decide something before deciding it. We do this by making visible the criteria they would like to take into consideration in making their decision. In other words, for them, what makes an idea a good one?

Groups often seek options that are “realistic” and “impactful”. They might say “aligned with available resources” or “consistent with our mission.” Occasionally they talk about striving for ideas that are “inspiring” or “energizing.”

Applied together as a composite filter or rubric, these co-created criteria can lead a group toward decisions that they would, collectively, consider to be wise.

The other advantage of this approach is that it distances people from the substance of the decision itself, at least temporarily. Creating some breathing room can be especially useful in situations where emotions are running high and/or where an issue is contentious and polarizing. Deciding on the decision-making criteria first surfaces common ground and creates shared standards before diving into those more difficult conversations.

I will describe in more detail how to walk a group through this exercise in an upcoming post. In the meantime, it’s worth noting that even when carefully applied, these criteria may not be sufficient to guarantee true wisdom. Knowledgeable, experienced people still need to apply their sound judgement to the results. That’s an entirely different kind of “fact checking,” and it’s desperately needed and apparently in short supply these days.

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