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Volume 6 Number 10   |   October 2016

The Burden of Proof

Someone published a spook of the old "Why did the chicken cross the road inquiry" (e.g., Deepak Chopra: "To explore its true chickenness in a world trying to make it just another fowl."

My response would have been: "What your evidence that the chicken actually crossed a road?"

I have continually asked clients about their evidence for their beliefs, statements, assumptions, and, worse, actions. There may be no more water coolers in an age of bottled water, but "water cooler gossip" is still alive and functioning daily. Clients don’t critically examine why they believe something to be true, or generalize from one-off comments. (Consultants do this, too: They change behavior because a single person has mentioned something or provided unsolicited advice.)

And the Answer Is...

Our job is to use two basic metrics to determine the truth: evidence in the environment and observed behavior. Ironically, this is extremely easy but too seldom done.

If the complaints are about "the boss not listening" then observe whether the boss is attentive, allowing questions to be completed, and accepting suggestions. See if the boss is listening to you! If the belief is that employees are not cross-selling products, check product sales by employees, "shop" the stores or phone lines, and observe the sales people.

Complaints aren’t self-justified. That is, many complaints are for the sake of the complainer and are not accurate, or are caused by unrelated unhappiness (a phenomenon called "transference"). Other beliefs are simply based on the most recent opinion voiced ("recency bias"). Still others result from one’s personal beliefs and experiences being assumed of others ("projection").

Best Practices

Never simply accept a cause/effect relationship suggested by others (including and especially your buyer). Validate or invalidate these beliefs by observing and searching for evidence and behaviors. It’s a simple technique to make you a great consultant.

Sometimes the chicken was actually in the hen house minding its own business while everyone else was looking for it across the road.

(My new subscription series, Maverick Mob, is now available at It includes video, audio, and even a day with me in Boston.)

© Alan Weiss 2016


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