One of the things I learned in the army on peacekeeping operations was that first information is usually (i.e., almost always) wrong, and to avoid overreacting. The worst thing you can do when you’re trying to keep a secure and safe environment for everyone is to believe everything you hear and then react immediately. This is why “ground truth” is so critical to a measured response.

Ground truth is what you learn by actually going out and seeing for yourself, talking to the people involved–on all sides–and then drawing your own conclusions. Just because one side says the other side did or didn’t do something doesn’t automatically mean it’s actually the case. Moreover, acting without optimal information and understanding can lead to unintended consequences. The key word is optimal. Perfect information is impossible, and trying to get it is extremely costly, in time and resources. On the other hand, shooting from the hip can work–sometimes–but there is usually something important you’ll overlook.

Get the ground truth, exercise reasonable skepticism, and try to look beyond the immediate effects of your decisions and actions to estimate intended and unintended consequences.

Richard Martin is a Master Strategist and Leadership Catalyst. Richard brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

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