24 Aug 2012 e-procurement and the authority fallacy
For some reason, social media gives credibility to even the most suspect stories. Take a read of this article: How We Screwed Almost the Whole Apple Community.
The authors drew a screw with a non-standard head. They emailed the drawing to themselves with a text suggesting (but providing no evidence) that it might be a leak from Apple and then posted a photo of the email and drawing on Reddit. They then waited to see what would happen. It took 12 hours for things to liven up. First, the Apple blog Cult of Mac reported ”Apple May Be Working On A Top Secret Asymmetric Screw To Lock You Out Of Your Devices Forever” and thereafter it went viral. The interesting thing for me was their analysis of the credulity of each successive wave of commentators as the story moved from Reddit to the IT press to bloggers to social media.
Many on Reddit correctly called it for a fake. The press and some bloggers maintained sceptical faculties. However commentators “below the line” in blogs and in the press raised few questions about the story and commentated as though it were true. By the time it came to opinions on Google+, Twitter and Facebook “critical thinking vapourised”. Their conclusions will be no surprise – “We must become more critical of what we read and think ‘Is this reasonable? ” and ”What’s the origin for this information? ”.
e-procurement and the authority fallacy
A similar process is at work with e-procurement, although not so neatly layered. The “Authority Fallacy” – the notion that it must be true because x, y or z says it is or because “I saw it on the internet” – is ubiquitous. When it comes to e-procurement I seem to find myself more and more engaging my inner face/palm interface as claims are uncritically repeated by people whom one really would expect to know better and marketing statements are uncritically raised to the status of received wisdom. Is it really so unreasonable to expect people to think for themselves – especially where those people are taking strategic decisions for their companies or their regions or their countries?
One reason for this prevalence of wishful thinking is we naturally want certain things to be true. We want there to be an easy remedy which solves the ills of the world or a magic pill to make us all slim, toned and eternally vigorous. The marketing schtick of the software industry and the swarming consultants is exactly that of pedlars of patent nostrums or the tele-evangelist: you are deep in sickness and sin but only surrender yourself (and give us your money) and you can be healed. What is more, if you are not healed then it is probably your fault for not surrendering yourself completely or not giving us enough of your money – buy some extra licences, wait for the upgrade and praise the Lord for his (small) mercies.
It is all nonsense of course. The guitar maker William Cumpiano once commented that “everyone wants to be something, nobody wants to become something”. Becoming something means taking time and acquiring expertise in your craft. In addressing procurement issues there are no silver bullets. Implementing an IT solution will not solve all of your ills, that takes hard work and involves working with real people in the real world. We all know this, so why do we fall for it time after time?
Sometimes there isn’t an app for that.
Ian Burdon can be found on twitter @IanBurdon