Where’s the evidence?

The media has been gleefully reporting a story about the “I Quit Sugar” author Sarah Wilson saying that she no longer thinks that abstaining from sugar is a good idea or necessary for optimal health. She said that she now eats cake and drinks wine every day. (Good on her, I’m all for that). One article quotes Sarah as saying that she never advocated that people should give up sugar (a strange claim, given the title of her book) but also highlights the fact that it’s really the readers of her book who might be feeling a little foolish now. They swallowed her ideas without ever considering the evidence or the veracity of her claims.

I know plenty of women (yes, it’s nearly always women) who advocate giving up all sugar, including fruit, in an effort to lose weight/be healthy and in truth, I can’t argue with them because no sugar diets do, in fact, work. All restrictive diets work in the narrow sense that if you eat a very small range of foods, you will lose weight. The question should really be about whether this is good for you in the long run.

It’s a bit like doing an evaluation of a social experiment (perhaps something like cashless card for people in remote communities). You can see that although something might “work” in the narrow sense, it could equally have a very negative impact on the wider community. It could damage the self-esteem of people in the community and make them feel more stigmatised and this in turn could lead to a range of other social issues. My point is that if you focus your evaluation just on “what works” you might very well miss evaluating the broader impacts of a program.

In Sarah Wilson’s case, she might have helped people lose a lot of weight, but their lives might have been infinitely sadder and more desperate after they gave up on cake, wine and fruit!

I must admit that in the past I’ve been guilty of thinking that if I promoted an idea with the right amount of enthusiasm, I might convince people that I was right. It’s taken me a long time to understand that what people really want is some kind of evidence so that their hearts can align with their brains.

Here’s a practical example…

As long time readers would know, I’m an advocate of simple slides. This is mainly because I’ve been in too many meetings where the slides were so complex that they just confused the issue. The messages weren’t clear and the overall impact was lost. In my view, it’s much better to have some strong clear messages.

But one thing I didn’t realise was that me being passionate about simple slides simply wasn’t cutting the mustard. People thought that simple slides were only good if you had a simple message. They thought that they weren’t appropriate for grand ideas or complicated concepts. It wasn’t until I started to talk about cognitive overload that people realised that confusing people with complex slides was a real thing.

Your audience really can’t take in more than a few key messages no matter how passionate or eloquent you are. People want to believe you (especially if you are passionate)but they also want facts. They need a logical reason to believe that what you say is true so give it to them, but get your facts right.

Don’t be like the popular authors who rely on vague science, get your ducks in a row.

2 thoughts on “Where’s the evidence?

  1. And good morning to you! I agree that in our eagerness to present all the facts, we often just end up overloading the people who are trying to get their heads around the ideas. This is especially true when you have a lot of information to get across, it’s often really difficult to know where to start.
    If you have a captive audience (ie a new boss) then you probably have more than one opportunity to get your ideas across so you can be a bit more selective but you’re right in saying that you have to get it in the right order as well.
    People at work often say that you have to hear something five times (or maybe it’s seven or three, can’t remember) before it really sinks in but I don’t agree with that. I don’t need to hear something that many times, I usually get it the first or second time. On the other hand, it’s often hard to get me to act on the information! That’s another issue altogether… Understanding something is different to doing something. I think there’s a bit of behavioural science creeping in here!
    Have a beautiful Sunday.

  2. Morning Margaret, thank you for your post, as always they leave me thinking deeply. My new boss started last week and he worked for many years with McKinsey so I am working hard to present information to him in a way that he is familiar with. One of the things I am challenged by is sifting through the facts to find the ones that make his, and our executive’s decision making easier. I think by inclination I take a scatter gun approach and present everything I know. Now I need to order the ideas and then remove the less important ones … not easy when I think they are all important to understanding complex situations. I’m enjoying the challenge, but it’s not easy, especially with short deadlines. Guess what I’m saying is that when you line up your ducks you need to line them up in order of importance to your audience. No easy task!

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