#19 Half Truths: Be On The Lookout For Sketchy Research

This post is a detour. A couple warnings I want to share before I get to the brain stuff I promised last time.

Warning #1: The best way to get someone to believe your theory is to somehow link it to brain science. This works even if the link is unproven.

I'm paraphrasing the findings of researchers Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. They wrote the book The Invisible Gorilla and did the famous gorilla test that you can find at this link.

I tell you this because the Simon Sinek WHY theory I'm going to cover in the next post has zero confirmed brain science behind it. At least as far as I can tell. It's just a brain story that lets him connect the dots in a kinda sorta logical way. And lots of people like his story - his speaking fees are in the $50k range. But, it's still just an unproven theory that uses the word brain a lot.

Now to be clear, I’m not trashing the guy or his work in any way. In fact, his WHY theory is going to sit at the dead center of my Map of Me. But I just want to make sure you know that this stuff isn’t settled science. 

And the real point is much bigger than just Sinek's work. When you read ANY business/leadership book that claims brain/neuro/biological-proof, be skeptical. Try to find confirming scientific studies from neutral third parties. Then, just to be safe, still be skeptical. 

And beyond just sketchy brain theories, there are other gotchas out there. Here's another one of the biggies.

Warning #2: Most research-based business books suck at statistics. 

Including three of the most popular of all time - Built to Last, Good to Great, In Search of Excellence. I like these books, and I’ll reference them in my writing. But I accept that they're inspirational and insightful business FICTION.

Their number one problem is something called the Halo Effect. Which means that we tend to give successful companies blanket credit. For instance, if a company has great earnings, we are more likely to say they also have great culture. Regardless of whether they do or not. 

This Halo Effect messes up data collection and you end up with WEAK conclusions. And it doesn’t matter whether you interview 10 people or 10,000 people. You can’t fix weak research design with more data points.


So if you, like me, love to read these research-based business books, be cautious. To make yourself appropriately cynical, I would beg you to read The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig. He methodically castrates these books and teaches you what to look out for as you read in the future.

At the same time, he sympathizes with the authors. He realizes that getting useful data on business best practices is tough. Companies don’t get to try both strategy A and strategy B under identical conditions. Or culture A versus culture B. 

You pick one and you go with it and you never get to know how life would have been different under the other scenario. You can never recreate those exact economic, competitive, behavioral conditions for the 2nd trial.

And, unfortunately, Rosenzweig doesn’t offer better alternatives. Fact is, the real business world is confusing. It's a dynamic system polluted with flawed business research. And no one can hand us a recipe for guaranteed success. 

That sucks, but it’s not a surprise. If these books actually worked all companies would be wonderful. Which we know isn't true. This is the key reason I call this site Map of Me. This adventure isn't about settled science and me lecturing you on THEE one and only path. It’s about finding "kinda sorta" stuff that works for each of us as individuals.

And the best "kinda sorta" stuff I can find comes from the field of psychology. These guys are cranking out research left and right and at least they pay some attention to study design. Not perfect. Remain skeptical. But they seem way more vetted than the straight business stuff. 

Which is why I kicked off this site with the Herzberg motivation research. While all studies have their flaws and critics, his work was clean enough for me and it clicked. I identified with his finding that motivation happens when people feel like they're growing.

So I would suggest you keep reading the business stuff with a watchful eye. And get a bit more into the psychology of the individuals that help you run and grow your business. I'll bet the payoff will be a powerful combination of personal and business growth.

Of course this is just a guess on my part. I have no brain scans or statistics to back me up. But at least I admit it.

***NOTE: This site works best when you read the posts in order. So please head to the ARCHIVE if you’re new here.