Friday 21 September 2007

The sceptical consumer

As a consumer, in fact just as a reasonably intelligent human being, I think you have to be sceptical.

There are so many people out there, so many groups, so many organisations that are, for whatever reason, trying to persuade us to believe things that we should all be very careful about. A sceptic doesn’t reject everything out of hand, all a sceptic does is refuse to accept things just because someone proposes them. Just because something is said or written, that doesn’t make it true.

I’m not saying that everything is a lie. I’ll do my best to be charitable. Most of what we hear on the radio or read in the newspapers is either truthful or at least well-meant. However, as well as a small proportion of outrageous lies there is also a lot that is either exaggerated, distorted or mistaken.

OK, let me start with an extreme example. In a recent newspaper there was an advertisement entitled “Lose weight fast”. The advert suggested that it was possible to lose 30kg in 10 weeks. The advert said “Go oriental, with Chinese traditionally herbal To-Ling homeopathic therapy. No side effects, exercise not necessary – act as gastric bypass.” I haven’t corrected the English at all by the way.

What this seems to be saying is that if you swallow their obnoxious herbal rubbish, sit on your sofa eating as much junk food and drinking as much beer as you like for 10 weeks, you’ll lose 30kg. Later on the advert it also says that their ridiculous remedy can “remove big fat stomach and tightening stomach muscle, also remove stretch marks”. This is clearly all gibberish but then there’s the last word they mention: “Diabetes”. These charlatans claim they can treat diabetes. The same diabetes that requires medical attention. The same diabetes that, if you’re not careful can blind you or, in extreme circumstances kill you.

Frankly it’s a real struggle to remain polite while typing this. How can I possibly express what I think about this without using words that Mmegi wouldn’t publish? Let me do my best.

This is all lies. Outrageous, scheming, malevolent, abusive and immoral lies.

I’m not a doctor, a physiologist, a nutritionist or a dietician. But I know this. Other than by cutting your legs off there is absolutely no way you can lose 30kg in 10 weeks. Anyone who tells you that this is possible is a liar. Anyone who tries to SELL you a way of doing it is a liar, a cheat and a scoundrel.

OK, so that’s a pretty extreme example. However the newspapers are full of less extreme and more plausible products. These offerings are obviously not in the same category as the medical charlatans but I still think we should be sceptical about what they offer.

What about the advertisements we see for workshops, conferences and seminars on the latest technologies, business innovations and fashionable ideas? Just this last week there was an invitation to attend a huge conference on “Recruitment and Talent Management Strategies”. All well and good, these are important issues. But why would I want to go to a conference about it a cost of P2,750 for a single day?

With thrilling sessions like “Linking HR Strategies, Employee Engagement and Talent Management” you can spend the whole day hearing from a load of middle-aged male experts on what they think is important for you to hear. But let’s be sceptical for a moment. Is there any evidence that attending these conferences has ever done any person or any organisation any good? Any real evidence?

Has anyone ever done any research on this? I’d love to hear about it if someone has. Our employers spend a fortune sending us to these functions so surely they’d like to know if they are spending their money wisely?

What I suspect these gatherings really achieve is the transformation of normal, talented and creative people into consultant clones who come out with quotes such as “Once the processes and value chain have been optimised, interventions focus on design and implementation of a suitable solution that satisfies the organisation’s systems requirements.” That’s a real quote from an expert on organisational change reported in a recent newspaper article. In case you’re interested in English that means “Get more efficient and buy a computer”.

A lot of people who come out with this sort of management hogwash do really understand it and sometimes even believe it but the vast majority of people are simply using long words to show off, to give the impression that they are very clever and understand it all. Which of course they don’t because it’s largely meaningless.

By all means go to these workshops, sign up for the conferences, listen to what public speakers have to say for themselves. Just don’t expect miracles, don’t expect your life or your business to improve overnight. If you want to make sure your investment is wisely made why don’t you ask the organisers what tangible benefits they guarantee following your attendance. Ask them what you will actually take home with you. What skills, what knowledge, what solutions will you get? Most importantly will they offer you a refund if you come away with nothing new?

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