Everything is about credibility.

Every decision you make, I’d like to say every one of them was based on information. But I can’t. So let’s do this: let’s say that you make two kinds of decisions, some that are based on information, and some that aren’t.

For the first kind, the decisions that are based on information, every piece of information that you evaluate when making your decision carries with it some measure of its credibility. It carries its credibility like a little rucksack as you march it around through its decision-making paces. Usually we infer information’s credibiity from the source; we also factor in how novel the information is (I know all this is boring, but I do have one small point, so please be patient). Credibility is incredibly important to us, no pun intended, so much so that even when we forget the source of a piece of information we will remember its credibility. I’m sure you’ll believe that I sometimes remember “That’s a good mechanic/restaurant/cheese” and I’m sure of that what I am remembering is true–but not sure who told me.*

I’m hoping I can hopefully avoid describing the second kind of decisions, those that aren’t based on information, well, hoping that you reading this will either believe in this kind because it seems like a reasonable description from your point of view, or that you will write off my including it as an exercise in logic. For these we use a different kind a credibility measure, you might call it internal credibility. For example, if you are deciding from the gut, whatever that might mean, need to decide when to trust your gut and when not to. If you are searching within yourself to resolve conflicting desires, you will assess the credibility of those desires in some way. ‘Do I really want to a hotdog? Or do I really not want to eat anything?’

Just as a side note, at this point I should mention that when we decide something is credible, that doesn’t mean that we act upon it. I might really want a hot dog; I might decide that I really do. But then I might still choose not to have one. Credibility is not the sum total of our decision-making. But it is part of every part of our decision-making.

Three names I enjoy

So now I’ll try to make my small point? For any of us who are there for interested and improving our minds, improving the quality of our decisions, improving the quality of the decisions for the minds of others, we would find no better place to put our efforts that in the improvement of the ability to assess credibility.

Have you ever thought about that before it all? About trying to get better at determining how credible a piece of information or an idea is? How would you learn this? Outside of your corporate anti-phishing training, how would you teach it? Are there algorithms for it? What would they look like? How do we learn what we already know about it? There’s this guy Peter Morville; he wrote a book called Ambient Findability back in 2005, and in the book he says but the more interconnected our world becomes, the more important our very human ability to assess credibility becomes. I’m paraphrasing. I think he said that. I think he said that. I think he wrote in a book, actually. And the book was published by a reputable publisher, O’Reilly I think it was?

I’m hesitating to write any more of this, because each subsequent idea is more complicated, and it will become too complicated to finish and too complicated to publish. But I’m sure the way that you assess credibility has nothing to do with what you think it has to do with.

So on one level, that’s kind of a useless level, one thing I’m suggesting here is that you promote credibility from being just an extra variable that is carried around, did you make it a first class citizen in your own thinking protocols, by bringing your conscious thought to bear upon it, rather than just letting it color everything. I’m hoping the math is actually simpler that way. :)

But I do like to finish these off with some very practical advice. So along those lines I’ll say, try imagining that you are speaker of each statement you hear, that you wrote the article, you designed the advertisement, any of it. Put yourself in their shoes and picture yourself saying what they are saying. This will suck, for a second, because it makes your thinking slow down a lot! Consciously imagining the other person’s perspective is a lot of extra information, compared to what you’re used to thinking about. Also, being suspicious makes us think more slowly. So prepare yourself for some discomfort, but give it a shot. You can practice with this if you want, and after even a short time you’ll start to feel your thinking adjusting. You are tuning the system in your mind that assesses credibility, and you might find that your attitude about many things changes dramatically. I apologize if you find out anything that you didn’t really want to know.

And I apologize for how horribly written this is! Congratulations on making it to the bottom. Better to write than not to write.

*What you might not believe is how we assess credibility. More on that later.