What do you do when you're looking for an answer to a business question?
Do you ask Google? Phone a friend? Or do you pay an expert? If you’re like most people, you go with Google.
Why wouldn’t you?
They’ve already done the hard work, and it only takes a minute for your favorite search engine to queue up a million or more answers.
The problem is, how do you know they’re the right answers?
People are happy to share their top tips and secret formulas for free (if you sign up for their newsletter), but how much of that free information is useful?
The second issue is that a lot of what you read online is a lie. Not a misstatement or improperly drawn conclusion, but a big, fat, bald-faced lie.
People make up stuff with the goal of driving web traffic, gaining likes, or signing up followers. And once it’s out there, other people share and repost the faux facts until everyone sees it so many times they assume it must be true.
Even if the person is an expert and is telling the truth, how do you know it will work for you?
You start by thinking like a reporter.
You do your due diligence, ask the right questions, listen to the answers.
This holds true whether you are tapping a local expert or doing an online search.
As a journalist, I start by doing a little research. It doesn’t have to be thesis level research, but it should be enough to find out what information is out there and who is sharing it.
People pull numbers out of the air all the time, then state them as facts. If you’re looking for information and need the right answers, you have to question everything.
When I write about medical topics, I go to places like the National Institutes of Health and the Mayo Clinic. I look at the studies they cite, see how long the study ran and how many test subjects were involved. If possible, I try to find out who paid for the study.
Pre-research doesn’t give you the ultimate answer, but it sets you up to ask better questions, especially if it’s a topic you’re not familiar with.
This is important because it helps you narrow the focus of your questions so you can find answers to your specific situation.
Finally, once you’ve asked the right question, listen to the answer. — This is even more important if you are speaking to a person rather than doing an online search.
More often than not, an expert source will provide far more information than you expect.
They will offer nuances and answers to questions you never even considered.
These types of responses lead to more questions and the kind of details that let you know you are getting the right answers.
And that’s what you’re looking for, right?
Google and the internet may be the go-to reference when you’re looking for help with a business problem, but it’s up to you to vet the source and verify the solution.
Think like a journalist. There are no guarantees, but following these three steps will go a long way in helping you find the information you’re looking for with confidence.