Friday, March 9, 2007
April Fools' Day - More ways to fool a smart person!
New age philosophers aren't the only ones using these techniques. I work mostly in information technology. Big consultancies make lots of money in that field advising businesses on how they should approach technology.

I've been to quite a few consultancy presentations where all kinds of jargon and graphs are flashed up on the screen. The consultants will drop terms like "inverted blade-center uptime matrix" into the presentation while showing some baffling data on the screen. If I look around the room while this is going on, everyone will be nodding and wide-eyed. The audience is baffled by the cool-sounding words and the clever-looking graphs.

If, at this time, you ask the consultant what exactly an "inverted blade-center uptime matrix" is, they'll often try to fob-you off with even more meaningless jargon. If you persist in trying to pin them down, they'll start acting like you must be some kind of incompetent idiot for not understanding this stuff. And the audience will probably be on the consultant's side - they don't want to be seen as incompetent idiots. Consultants behave this way because they know that's how to get a sale. Bombard people with clever-sounding stuff they don't really understand, and they'll assume that you're some kind of genius. It's a great way of making money.

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Stock analysts, economic forecasters, management consultants, futurologists, investment advisors and so on use this tactic all the time. It's their chief marketing strategy for the simple reason that it works.Just make a far-fetched claim - like you know where the stock-market will be this time next year - and dress it up in some fancy language, graphs, and figures. All sorts of otherwise intelligent people will virtually beg you to take their money.

Enron built an entire global company using this scheme. Often, during the late-90s press coverage about how wonderful Enron was, the writer would admit no-one knew quite how the company was making its money. They were quick to assure their readers that this was nothing to be alarmed about, however. This was the most admired company in the world, after all. Just listen to all that fancy energy-market jargon that the managers spout.It sounded clever, so it must be true.Only it wasn't.

Once you become aware of this scam, you start to see how it's used all over the place. Newspapers and magazines are full of articles about important organizations predicting this or that based on intelligent-sounding stuff. Big business and new-age gurus use it to cover up their dubious statements. Our society is awash with things that are tailored to sound more clever than they actually are.That's not to say that some concepts aren't genuinely difficult to understand and require technical terms, lots of data and graphs. However, those that honestly try to communicate these concepts do so by reducing the complexity as much as they can. They want you to understand, so they avoid dressing it up in more technical wizardry than is necessary.

It's when someone tries to sell you a concept that they've obviously taken steps to make appear more intelligent than it is that you should be suspicious. If they start raving on about things that are clearly unconnected to their idea – this was the technique used by Shakespeare, quantum physics shows this is true, it's a reverse matrix etc – alarm bells should be going off in your head. If their idea is so credible and smart, they shouldn't need to decorate it with these kinds of trinkets in order to impress you. Remember this, and you'll avoid being fooled by this popular and effective ruse.

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posted by Gerry at Friday, March 09, 2007 ¤ Permalink ¤