Why I speak in absolutes

More than once in the past I’ve been criticized for over-simplifying and over-generalizing research findings and for making bold claims that go beyond the scope of the research. But I’ve continued to do it, because I think when done correctly, it’s the best way to get people to act on the insight you generate.

I’ve just finished reading The Thank You Economy by Gary Veynerchuk (which by the way is an excellent read and has lots of content you can re-use if you’re trying to persuade others of the value of social media) and he makes similar claims about speaking in absolutes and the value of over-generalizing research findings:

Why I speak in absolutes

Because if I give you an inch, you’ll run a mile with it. When I said in 1998, “You’re dead if you don’t put your business on the Internet and get in on ecommerce,” was that true? No. But boy, can you imagine trying to be in business in 2010 with zero web presence? I’d rather shock you into paying attention, and admit later that business rarely requires an all-or-nothing approach, than take the chance that you won’t take the situation seriously enough.

The trick is to explain that your bold claims are your opinion, based on the research you did: “Here is what I found, here is what I think it means, and here is what I think you should do”.

All communicated research should include those three elements. Far too many people stop at “Here is what I found”. All research is subjective to some degree, and open to interpretation. So be bold, make claims that will make people listen, be open to feedback, and be prepared to be wrong.

Oh, and stop communicating your research in reports and slide decks. Reports are useful for research synthesis. Reports are for researchers. To get other people to act, communicate face to face.


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