Over 500,000 people visited Farnam Street last month to expand their knowledge and improve their thinking. Work smarter, not harder with our free weekly newsletter that's full of time-tested knowledge you can add to your mental toolbox.

Filtering Nonsense


When I first drafted this post, I tentatively called it how to get fired.

That might not be entirely true but if you follow the advice below, you might quickly find yourself with more time on your hands. Nothing gets you uninvited to meetings quicker than being labelled a troublemaker.

With that warning, try these ideas the next time you are in a meeting.

Ask Why.

Simply ask people to walk you through their thinking. Why do you think that? Walk me through your logic.

We’re simply too busy these days to have as many opinions as we do and asking why quickly sorts out the people who have done the work from the people who haven’t.

In the process you’ll expose some assumptions that should be explicit and visible.

Over the years, I’ve found that simply asking why and listening to the quality of the response is the best bullshit filter. If answers come back in cliches and generalizations, that’s an indication that more thinking is needed.

Define Success.

What does success look like? The second thing is to simply ask people to define success in clear and unambiguous terms before something gets underway.

If you’re taking on a new project or starting a new service, you clearly expect some outcome, right? So it should be somewhat logical that you’ll be able to say we expect X, Y, and Z to happen and if they don’t then this will be considered a failure.

Simply asking, what success looks like in specifics tells you a lot. I think you’d be surprised at the number of people who prefer to throw a dart at the wall and then draw a bullseye around it. Or, then again, maybe you wouldn’t.

Now watch. If X, Y, and Z are reported for a few weeks and then somehow disappear, something is probably amiss. Dig deeper.

Another simple idea is to simply ask people to explain the best case against their own argument.

Of course none of this is going to get you promoted. There are other ways to do that.

Over to you

What are you tips to improve the quality of discussion in meetings and/or filter nonsense?

Filed Under: