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The world is changing fast… so fast that saying those words simply doesn’t do justice to the rapid-fire speed of transformation. New technologies, terminologies and strategies emerge practically daily. The Blockchain. Artificial Intelligence. 3D printers. Biohybrid Robots. Underwater drones. Quantum computers. Virtual Reality. Augmented Reality. Fusion Energy. Gene Editing. The list goes on and on. There isn’t an industry or field in which advances are not happening at a dizzying pace. And thus businesses are having to evolve at a faster pace. Business leaders are having to parse through mountains of information to determine what matters and what doesn’t, and then how to act on it. More than ever, there is a need to quickly separate the wheat from the proverbial chaff to identify quality information and apply it wisely. But how do we know what sources are offering advice that is solid, reliable and worthy?
It used to be that certain publications, books, news channels, universities and organizations were considered the gold standard for business advice. But as media has struggled to keep up with the digital age, sources that were once considered unimpeachable have begun to allow chaff in with the wheat. Universities have begun to conduct studies on behalf of big business to skew information in one direction or another. No longer can an organization or publication be accepted at face value as completely unbiased and reliable. Thanks to self-publishing and print-on-demand, having a book in print does not necessarily make an “author” of a business book an “authority” on business. Leaders and managers must be much more discerning of what information is consumed, trusted and implemented. So how do you sort out the nonsense and fluff from solidly researched and validated information?
1. Business Advice from Commercial Publications & Programs
There is certainly no shortage of daily, weekly and monthly publications and TV and online programs that put out scads of commentary, analysis, synthesis and evaluation for the world of business on practices and strategies. While many publications are highly biased and unreliable, there are a plethora that rise above to be considered “reputable sources” of business advice in the U.S. Some to consider include:
- Wall Street Journal
- New York Times
- The Economist
- Fast Company
- Ad Week
- Accounting Today
- Robb Report
But, can these sources be completely trusted to produce nothing but pure quality information? The simple but unfortunate answer is no. A cursory review can easily produce articles that argue in favor of and against any strategy, without supporting data for either. Bias and ulterior motives infiltrate. It’s harder and harder to distinguish a scholarly article from marketing hype anymore.
Case in point. Inc. magazine recently published an article titled “Don’t Risk an Outdated Marketing Strategy – Make This 1 Type of Content Your Top Priority in 2018”. The author, Amy Balliett, CEO and Owner of Killer Infographics, advised that “Visual Content Marketing is The New Content Marketing.” She went on to recommend that companies should “plan to produce eBooks, animated video, interactive content, memes, gifs, and infographics at regular intervals.” She cautioned, however, to “remember that 94% of first impressions are based entirely on the design of the visual content you deliver, according to a multi-university study by Northumbria and Sheffield University. Let your content display a commitment to quality and authority versus a commitment to fast and cheap.”
Of course, creating quality visual content is what Ms. Balliett does for a living so it is hard to know if her article was valid or nothing more than sales disguised as business advice. Also, the research she mentions is vague. And her advice is particularly questionable in light of conflicting information. An article published in Entrepreneur Magazine a month later cited the top “18 Marketing Trends to Watch in 2018.” In that article, Deep Patel, an Entrepreneur Magazine Contributor, recommends a host of marketing strategies that will dominate in 2018 but Visual Content Marketing was not mentioned as a top trend. The strategies he recommended included: artificial intelligence in email, quantitative marketing, personalization, augmented reality, auto ads, voice-optimized content, privacy protection, more Instagram, live events, more LinkedIn, predictive lead scoring, machine learning, and influencer marketing. Video or visual content marketing did not even get mentioned, which makes Balliett’s advice to make visual content the “#1 priority” seem even more biased.
When a so-called reputable publication says one thing, and another reputable publication says something completely different, what is a business leader to do? Which advice should be followed? This is where business leaders need to consider the source. Assessment of the advice and business discernment is required. This holds true for published content as well as for online and television business programs. It’s important to ask questions such as:
- Who is this “expert” and how is he/she qualified to give this type of advice?
- Does this “expert” have a vested interest in or benefit from promoting a particular angle or message?
- Is the “expert” a regular contributor or guest contributor a/k/a freelance writer or marketer?
- Did the “expert” fully cite any reputable studies to support the advice?
- Do other sources also reinforce the same advice?
2. Business Advice from Academic Institutions & Journals
Rather than be guided by questionable sources, business leaders might do better to take their advice from scholarly sources. At an even higher level of reputation and reliability is the research and development in business being conducted by leading universities in the U.S. Leading graduate programs for Business Administration include: Harvard University; Wharton; Northwestern (Kellogg); Dartmouth; MIT (Sloan); UC Berkeley; Cornell (Johnson); Dartmouth (Tuck); Columbia; University of Chicago (Booth); Yale; and Duke (Fuqua). That’s just a tip of the iceberg. The list of top business grad schools goes on and on. These institutions not only conduct research, but also offer continuing education seminars, online learning and summer intensive courses for business leaders that want to refresh or augment their skills.
These universities regularly publish scholarly articles in top academic journals. Such journals for business include:
- Harvard Business Review
- Journal of Internet Banking and Commerce
- International Journal of Economics & Management Sciences
- Business and Economic Journal
- Journal of Business & Financial Affairs
- Journal of Hotel & Business Management
- International Journal of Accounting Research
- Journal of Entrepreneurship & Organizational Management
- Industrial Engineering & Management
- Journal of Tourism & Hospitality
- Journal of Global Economics
- Journal of Accounting & Marketing
These publications look at academic studies on managerial and business processes, structures, and outcomes. They examine topics such as organizational culture and behavior, human resource management, financial management, organizational culture and communication, leadership and strategic planning. Research in these fields provides instant, ongoing and data-supported information on the latest trends and developments in business and management.
Also, these publications are held to a much higher standard of peer review and validation than commercial publications and courses. However, as global businesses and trade organizations have begun to collaborate with institutions of higher learning, pressure to skew research and results has also begun to infiltrate. For example, pressure from industries such as dairy and beef has absolutely biased studies that look at the benefits of including diary and beef in diets. Again, leaders must examine closely who is providing the advice and how they might be influenced.
3. Business Advice from Trusted Advisors
That brings us to the third but arguably highest quality of advice for business leaders: trusted advisors. First, every advisor is not a trusted advisor. That’s the point, really. Many will offer business advice, but few are actually qualified to actually give sound advice or know enough about a particular industry or business to give relevant, practical advice. That’s why a trusted advisor is invaluable. A trusted advisor should be someone that the leader respects and has a great track record of not just success, but has endured tough times. It should be a hero, but one who has made mistakes and has failed. With mistakes and failures comes real wisdom.
It should also be someone who stays current so that the guidance is fresh. And someone who is well-connected, so that if he is unable to give advice, then he has a network he can tap into for answers and insights. Also, it doesn’t need to be someone who is high profile. The ideal is to find someone who has knowledge and direct experience in the leader’s specific industry. For business advice to be of any value, the trusted advisor must understand that market and its potential threats. What good is advice if it is too generic to be of value?
It is imperative for business leaders to keep up with changes and constantly be learning. But not all business advice is created equal. It is important to be discerning when choosing materials to read, programs to watch, seminars to attend, courses to take, and advisors to trust. Use judgment and choose wisely. The company’s success may depend on it.
Quote of the Week
“When business owners focus on learning and growing, money follows by default.” Arshad Wahedna
 October 17, 2017, By: Amy Balliett, Inc. Magazine, Don’t Risk an Outdated Marketing Strategy – Make This 1 Type of Content Your Top Priority in 2018. https://www.inc.com/amy-balliett/is-your-marketing-strategy-outdated-yes-if-you-arent-producing-this-1-one-type-of-content.html
 2017, U.S. News & World Report, Ranking, Best Business Schools in 2017, https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/mba-rankings
2018, Business and Management Journals, OMICS International, https://www.omicsonline.org/business-and-management-journals.php
© 2018, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.