With so much information from so many different sources flooding into our daily lives, it can be difficult to separate the signal from the noise. This is especially true when it comes to monitoring the news that has real potential to impact your business.
Now more than ever, leaders need reliable information based on data, not conjecture, to understand what is truly happening with the global economy now and what is likely to happen in the future. Becoming intentional about obtaining a variety of unbiased information, while also avoiding the distraction of fly-by-night advice, helps executives frame up an educated opinion on how economic trends will or will not affect their strategic plans.
Over the span of my career, I’ve gathered a list of information sources I consider stable bellwethers and others I see as fickle distractions.
Bellwethers worthy of a business leader’s attention
Recurring reporting from both local and national sources, such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Situation Summary, the Iowa Association of Realtors’ Housing Statistics Report, the Des Moines Business Record’s commercial real estate reporting or the U.S. Census Bureau’s Advance Monthly Sales for Retail Trade and Food Services Report, are excellent sources of information, particularly if monitored and compared over time. The Treasury Yield Curve and outcomes from Federal Reserve Board meetings are other examples of ongoing reports import to digest as soon as they are released.
Reports that compare projections to actuals are also incredibly helpful, as they tend to train the brain overtime as to how much reliability can be applied to a given prediction. Content-rich emails from financial services providers often provide this kind of perspective. Subscribe to a few and experiment until you find the right fit. Your own internal data, as compared to expert expectations, can be very insightful, as well.
In general, sources that cite actual data, especially trending data, are worthy of a business leader’s attention. Keep in mind, however, numbers can be taken out of context; surveys can be skewed; research can be influenced; studies can be misinterpreted. Consider the intention of the publishing organization before you rely 100 percent on the numbers they are reporting. Always look for corroborating evidence or support. If only one outlet is reporting the information, that could be a red flag signaling the data’s unreliability.
Distractions business leaders should avoid
It’s certainly easier said than done, but leaders should be skeptical of any information that finds them vs. the other way around. These sources include posts in social media feeds, pop-up “news” alerts in internet browsers and unsolicited content from people or companies with whom the leader has no previous relationship. Many of these are paid placements highly targeted to the recipient based on their recent searches and even their recent offline conversations (Yes, your phone is listening to you.).
Articles that speculate on the future are another source you may want to think twice before relying on for too much strategic pivoting. Even reporting that includes the insight of several experts can be disingenuous, depending on the writer’s desired angle or individual point of view.
Opinions are just that. Especially when they arise from a person with little to no previous experience in the field or sector he or she is talking about have to be taken with a grain of salt.
Applying critical thinking to any source of information will keep most leaders out of trouble. If something sounds surprising, given what you hear from colleagues and clients, apply extra scrutiny. Your diligence will be worth the effort, ensuring you make decisions based on the facts, not someone’s opinion of them.