Evaluate the Evaluator

Every day as leaders, we must evaluate the person we ask for counsel.

If you ever watch late-night television, you may have seen ABC’S Jimmy Kimmel doing some rather interesting skits on his show. One of the more illuminating routines is what he calls Lie Witness News. For this, Kimmel has one of his associates head out onto the streets of Hollywood to ask random people a fake, ridiculous question — like “What were your thoughts when you heard the news that Canada was going to be the 51st state in the United States?” People answered as if they already knew this — with conviction, organized thoughts, and detailed explanations. 

Can people be this dumb? Or is this just playacting on the part of the Kimmel show?

The answer to both is no. It’s just an example of “Bikeshedding,” which occurs when people throw out an opinion on how to solve a problem even though they don’t have any expertise in that area. It comes from British Naval Historian and Author Cyril Northcote Parkinson, who devised a test asking readers to imagine a financial committee meeting to discuss a three-point investment plan. Two of the three points were on topics easily explainable (one was a bike shed, the other coffee). The last one, though, was on something no one could have an expert opinion on — a nuclear power plant. It was too intricate, too delicate. Ideas flowed back and forth on the bike shed and coffee, but no one wanted to touch the power plant, even though it might have been more beneficial. This was Parkinson’s version of Lie Witness News, before Kimmel. 

The lesson for all of us to realize is that everyone has an opinion on most everything. Most don’t have expertise. People love to hear themselves talk. They love to sound well rounded, even though they have surface knowledge or may even have to make up an answer. When you ask someone with limited knowledge a question, how can you expect an expert response? The bike-shedding problem really does not fall on the person answering the question, though. It’s on the person asking. After all, why should we ask people their opinion unless they have deep-level knowledge of the problem?   

Every day as leaders, we must evaluate the person we ask for counsel. Let’s remind ourselves to “evaluate the evaluator” and avoid being in the bike shed. 

P.S. If you are in search of a book recommendation, our team at The Daily Coach highly recommends The Book of Beautiful Questions: The Powerful Questions That Will Help You Decide, Create, Connect, and Lead by Warren Berger. This book shares illuminating stories and compelling research on the power of inquiry. Drawn from the insights and expertise of psychologists, innovators, effective leaders, and some of the world's foremost creative thinkers, Berger presents the essential questions readers need to make the best choices when it truly counts, with a particular focus in four key areas: decision-making, creativity, leadership, and relationships.

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