Years ago I purchased an e-book at Amazon, How To Analyze Information: A Step-By-Step Guide To Life’s Most Vital Skill, by the late Herbert E. Meyer, which I’ve referred to in previous blog posts. Unfortunately, I no longer see it available at Amazon or online. Meyer was a contrarian. Being a contrarian myself and often having opinions that swim against the prevailing views, I found Meyer worth paying attention to (and very interesting besides). In this small guide he laid out some very simple, but crucial steps to take to analyze information, which most of us often overlook. Here is his 7-step process:
Step One: Figure Out Where You Are
Step Two: Be Sure You’re Seeing Clearly
Step Three: Decide What You Need To Decide
Step Four: Determine What You Need To Know
Step Five: Collect Your Information
Step Six: Turn The Information Into Knowledge
Step Seven: Add The Final Ingredient (Judgment)
I think most of us take a lot of short-cuts when analyzing information and it leads us to assuming we have a lot more knowledge on many things than we really do. In our fast-paced, digital information environment, astoundingly many experts in our most information-crucial environments (like intelligence guru pundits), seem to skip these steps and rush to embrace partisan-packaged conclusions that either bolster popular political narratives or give them an opportunity to preen in the glow of the media spotlight, as journalists clamor for these intel whizzes to impart their wisdom to us.
Meyer gave very common situations as examples to explain these steps. Figuring out where you are isn’t just about your geographical location, it can be where you’re at metaphorically. In my last post, I recommended simplifying your lifestyle by beginning with building emergency savings and paying down debt as first emergency preparedness steps, in my view. So with simplifying your lifestyle, you have to really know where you are – from finances, to responsibilities, to physical health/limitations.
Seeing clearly takes effort, because everyone has what Meyer referred to as “prisms” that can distort how they view a situation or information. Prisms can be beliefs, biases, ideologies (political views) or even people we trust or distrust that will impede our ability to see information clearly. Meyer gave an example of having a friend you trust, but everyone else knows is a crook, would make you unlikely to see the information everyone else is seeing, until it’s too late. Often we glide by negative information on people we like, while taking a microscope to the tiniest, flimsiest piece of dirt on someone we dislike. Recognizing your own “prisms” and working to see clearly opens the way for you to move on to figuring out what you need to decide and then what information you need to collect for your decision-making.
Most of us, I suspect, start around Step Four or Five, when it comes to analyzing information, because we assume we know where we are and that we see clearly. Plus, most people, myself included, often assume we know what we need to decide, yet often later realize we should have been thinking about an entirely different matter first, should have taken more time to think things through, should have done more research, should have looked at other options – especially with financial decisions in our vast consumer culture and the ease with which we can swipe or click or make online purchases.
Meyer’s final ingredient was a chapter on judgment, which he described this way:
“Judgment is the sum total of who we are – the combined product of our character, our personality, our instincts and our knowledge. Because judgment involves more than knowledge, it isn’t the same thing as education. You cannot learn judgment by taking a course, or by reading a book. This is why some of the most highly educated people in the world have terrible judgment, and why some people who dropped out of school at the age of sixteen have superb judgment.”
Meyer, Herbert E.. How to Analyze Information: A Step-by-Step Guide to Life’s Most Vital Skill . Storm King Press. Kindle Edition.
Of course, the thing is we can all learn and improve our decision-making and judgment by becoming more aware of our short-comings, biases, and for all of us, honestly facing our past mistakes rather than making excuses for them.
Some people are reckless with money and some people, by nature, are very cautious, so being honest with yourself about your money habits will put you in a better position to knowing where you are and seeing clearly. I have known many people who go from one financial train wreck to another and invariably they blame “bad luck” for all of it, never taking personal responsibility for their bad decisions. Facing the truth is hard, but crucial to ever being able to figure out where you really are with your personal finances. Then you can decide what you really need to decide and set about gathering information, which is more than just reading one source that fits your “prisms.”
You’ve got to collect information from numerous sources and start figuring out what information is more accurate and reliable. This puts you on the road to acquiring knowledge. This process will hopefully lead to better decisions. I think it’s really helpful to have some trusted sounding boards, people who have experience or more expertise than you do, in your life.
Taking money advice from a friend who is always broke and behind in paying their monthly bills isn’t a good candidate to be a sounding board on good financial planning, but a friend like that may help you feel better about your own poor financial decisions and lead you to making more bad money decisions. I have seen this with people who are shopaholics and they seek out friends who reinforce their bad spending habits. Don’t seek me to be that shopping friend, lol. I have always hated shopping, except for craft and needlework stuff, which I have plenty of and don’t want more.
This all sounds so simple, yet until I read Meyer’s short little guide, I realized that I often completely skipped his Steps One and Two, which led me to become an excellent cherry-picker of information, looking for information that fit my “prisms” and often not really having a clear idea where I was, especially in making personal decisions.
I like to slow down now and take my time with making decisions. In the prepper world, I hear a lot of “hurry up and stock up on this or that now, before it’s all gone” and a lot of fearmongering, that the sky’s falling. I also see a lot of online preppers who talk almost exclusively about their purchases (hauls) and the YouTube “haul video” thing is in almost every YouTube community I’ve seen. We are a nation of shoppers, that’s for sure. As I said in my last post, emergency preparedness can save your life, but it’s got to start with being responsible in your daily life and that begins with getting your finances in better order, not shopping for “preps.”
I do have emergency savings and basic emergency preps, but still not as much water as I think I should (I am aiming for a 6 month supply). I’m still thinking about next steps in my preparedness efforts and have been thinking about buying a Berkey. Like many people, I think about emergency preparedness a lot more than I did pre-pandemic chaos and pre-BLM civil unrest. And like many Americans, I’ve been pretty fed-up and grown completely distrustful of our government rising to the occasion in major crises.
Of course, you’d have to be living under a rock not to be aware of all the disturbing events that have disrupted and impacted most people’s daily lives. Inflation is impacting everywhere, from fuel, to electricity, to consumer goods, to grocery prices and I haven’t seen any financial experts predicting things will improve anytime soon. It’s pretty unified warnings that inflation is expected to worsen and shortages will continue into 2022. The pandemic “stuff” is still ongoing too.
Even if the worst case financial collapse doesn’t happen, protracted national economic problems really can be a personal “sky is falling crisis,” if you’re not prepared – especially if your finances are already on shaky ground. Building some emergency savings and eliminating personal debt are two of the best “preps” you can do to increase your emergency preparedness to weather economic hard times.
I like Dave Ramsey, but many people disagree with his 7 Baby Steps Plan. I bought his book, Financial Peace, at a yard sale many years ago, read it and found it useful. However you decide to get your personal finances in order – eliminating personal debt frees up money, that you can put towards savings, building up basic emergency supplies, or other goals. If Ramsey isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other financial planning and management sources.
Meyer’s 7-step guide helped me reassess how I was analyzing information and I found it very useful. If I find it available online, I’ll share a link.