As a card-carrying member of the KJR community, you know our guts are optimized for digestion, not for a dominant role in the executive decision-support system.

While watching The Loudest Voice a biopic chronicling the rise and fall of Fox News’ Roger Ailes — it occurred to me that, when making decisions, deciding whether or not we should rely on our intestines is less consequential than deciding who we trust to provide us with information and insights.

The Loudest Voice, for example, tells a compelling tale. Much of it is or could reasonably have been supported by sources close to Ailes and Fox News. But some of the story depicts private circumstances, especially between Ailes and his wife Elizabeth, for which the scriptwriters could not plausibly have had any reliable sources to draw on.

Scratch The Loudest Voice off my list of places to get insights into conservative media.

But the story as told was compelling (and Russell Crowe’s performance as Ailes was brilliant). Were I a left-wing partisan I’d have been vulnerable to accepting the entire production as history, not just “based on a true story.”

Which brings us to the opinions we form and the decisions we make, not only in our personal livee as citizens and voters, but as managers and professionals as well.

How do you decide which of your potential information sources you can trust? And if you find yourself disagreeing with folks you need to persuade, how do you pry them loose from the information sources they rely on … usually, one or more of the big three analyst firms (Gartner, Forrester, IDC) … to more reliable sources such as Keep the Joint Running, or, even better (for you), you and your colleagues who will have to turn CIO decisions into practical action?

Here’s a starting point: Have some. Information sources, that is.

Take time … make time … to read, about developments in your areas of specialization, and, even more important, where you don’t specialize.

As you read, pay attention to your own confirmation bias.

Read critically, but not so critically that you ignore ideas and trends you should be knowledgeable about.

But on the other hand, we all need to pay special attention to the other side of our confirmation biases, uncritically accepting sources we like, or that tell us what we want to hear.

In the political world, that’s how QAnon has gained influence. Political partisans start with the desire for their own opinions to dominate. That easily turns into a need to dislike those they disagree with — for their opponents to be bad people. Once I need my opponents to be bad people it’s just one small step for me to seek out information sources that disparage them.

In the IT world we don’t (yet) have any QAnons to worry about. Nobody reads an IT opinion piece because it vilifies … well, maybe we do.

Imagine you’re on a solution selection project and have developed a preference for one of the candidates. Now imagine the team seems to be leaning to a different candidate, one you’re far more skeptical of.

As we’re dealing in hypotheticals, next imagine you search for industry evaluations that back your position. You run across a Gartner Magic Quadrant that places your preferred solution in the prized “Leader” quadrant while scoring the one you dislike as a hopeless loser (“Niche” in GartnerSpeak).

I don’t know about you, but my inclination would be to immediately share Gartner’s views with the selection team.

But if Gartner’ analysis ran the other way, I’d probably search for a second opinion. Imagine what I found was a hatchet job that cast aspersions, not only on Gartner’s methodology, but on its objectivity and integrity as well. Would I be tempted to share that with the team?

Of course I’d be tempted. Would I actually share it? I hope that if the critique in question was based solely on hypotheticals, with no actual evidence to back it up, I’d resist the temptation.

I hope.

Sharing that sort of thing wouldn’t be QAnon-grade conspiracy-theory mongering. But it would be a step in that general direction, especially because the act of sharing it doesn’t just influence the people around me. It also sets up the vicious cycle of selecting what I read based on my likes and dislikes, reinforcing them.

Which in turn leads me to make my future information sourcing choices searches, not for information, but for ammunition.

And that’s the point this week: We need to choose our information sources carefully. Choose none and we’re just ignorant.

But choosing the wrong ones will make us worse than ignorant.

It will make us deluded.

In 2007 I wrote about forming the Competence Party. I’d have loved to do it, and would have if only I was competent to form a political party.

I think it’s fair to say that this is the first election since then in which competence is an actual issue — something voters are paying attention to when deciding who to vote for.

So without commenting on either candidate’s competence track record, and in case you haven’t yet cast your ballot, let me encourage you to skip character as an issue no matter how tempting it might be as a differentiator. Character does and should matter, but there are in fact times when we care less if someone is a sphincter than we care if that someone is a sphincter who’s on our side.

The “He might be a sphincter but he’s my sphincter” philosophy has its limits though, namely, that sphincters exhibit neither consistency nor loyalty.

Let me also encourage you to skip the “Who would you rather have a beer with?” criterion, not only because the question finishes with a preposition, but also on the grounds that it’s profoundly stupid.

Competence shouldn’t be a deciding factor either, but only because we should be able to assume it. It should be the ante that lets a candidate play the game, not the hand that wins it.

But here we are. And so, in case you’re still undecided, or if you’d like the list of Competence Party principles to support something more prosaic, like, for example, hiring a manager or making sure your own management style is predicated on competence, here’s the list for whatever use you’d care to put it to:

  • We will know what we want to accomplish, be clear in how we describe it, and know why it’s a good idea.
  • We will concentrate our efforts on a small number of important goals, recognizing that if we try to accomplish everything we’ll end up accomplishing nothing.
  • We will be realistic. We will choose courses of action only from among those possibilities predicated on all physical objects obeying the laws of physics, human nature not somehow changing for the better, and what has gone wrong in the past having something useful to teach us.
  • Our decisions will always begin by examining the evidence. And we will recognize that when our cherished principles collide with the evidence, the evidence wins. Every time.
  • With new evidence we will reconsider old decisions. Without it, we won’t.
  • We will never mistake our personal experience for hard evidence. Personal experience is the evidence we know best. It’s also a biased sample.
  • We will think first, plan next, and only then act. The only exception is a true emergency, where making any decision in the next two minutes is better than making the right decision sometime in the next several days.
  • We will never mistake hope for a plan. A plan describes what everyone has to do, in what order, to achieve a goal. Vague intentions and platitudes don’t.
  • We will sweat the details. Vague intentions and platitudes don’t have any, which is why those who stop with them always fail.
  • We will put the most qualified person we can find in every position. We’ll find some other way to reward high-dollar campaign contributors. Also, if we find someone is not able to succeed at what we’ve asked them to do, we’ll replace them with someone who is.
  • We will never blame anything on the law of unintended consequences. Our job is to foresee consequences, which we can usually do if we think things through.

You might think I crafted these based on current events to sway your vote to a specific candidate. Well, I did base these principles on events, only they were current in 2007, not 2020.

Also: If you’re applying these principles to hiring a new manager, this isn’t exactly the same as deciding who to vote for in a presidential election. In particular, when hiring a manager, or any other position for that matter, you don’t have to settle, and shouldn’t.

When hiring, good enough is rarely good enough. When voting, in contrast, the slate of candidates is it. Pick the best from the list of those who might possibly win.

Exclude those who can’t possibly win because otherwise your vote will count as a half vote for a candidate you’d otherwise vote against.

One more thing: Whether you agree with the Competence Party’s list of principles as a way to decide who to vote for, or you have other criteria you like better, vote.

Unless you disagree with me. Then, please abstain. Your non-vote will only make my own vote count for more.