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Why Sean Hannity Can’t Innovate

…and Rachel Maddow is in the same boat

As seen on Forbes.com

I’ll admit to not being too political. In fact, I had to spend quite a bit of time on sites like PolitiFact.com just to make sure I wasn’t imagining something that everyone else knows is true: The right and the left find ways to see most things differently. In fact, if you really want a “fair and balanced” look at political issues, try quickly switching back and forth between Fox and MSNBC. Three things will happen:

  1. You’ll hear dramatically different perspectives on just about everything.
  2. You’ll end up being confused.
  3. You’ll understand that your favorite politicians, journalists and commentators can teach you something about innovation—specifically, how not to be innovative.

For example, late Friday, a GOP-led panel released their Benghazi probe findings. According to CBS news, the panel concluded:

“The CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.”

The report asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration officials.

This runs in the face of a long-standing quote on Sean Hannity’s website, which even as I write this is still there:

“The Obama administration has gone to great lengths to lie and manipulate the truth regarding what really happened almost two years ago when our consulate was attacked in Benghazi and four brave Americans were killed.”

Mr. Hannity is not alone in his view on Fox. Since that terrible event in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, Fox personalities, in what could be described as perspective judo, have creatively found ways to fan a flame that, as the Congressional report concluded, should have gone out of its own accord. I suspect that Mr. Hannity will find a way to judo this report into further conspiratorial ridiculousness.

To be clear, I am not picking on any side of the aisle here. You don’t have to be a high-strung conservative to deliver “unfair and unbalanced” perspectives. When it comes to looking through a tilted lens, we’re all quite capable, regardless of our political affiliation or industry.

For example:

In 2010 on ABC’s “This Week,” Bill Maher, speaking on behalf of “the left” and saying, “There’s no one that really represents our point of view,” shared what he thought was a fact, but it turned out to be an opinion when he said, “I mean, Brazil got off oil in the last 30 years, we certainly could have.” Missing in Mr. Maher’s perspective is that Brazil is actually the eighth largest global consumer of oil.

Rachel Maddow has been accused of the same type of distorted perspective in the past. “Despite what you may have heard about Wisconsin’s finances, Wisconsin is on track to have a budget surplus this year—I’m not kidding.” She may not be kidding, but the Associated Press, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Governor Walker all projected between $78 million and $340 million in deficit. Maddow relied on a memo prepared by Robert Lang, the director of the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. But a review of the fine print showed a $137 million shortfall.

Now, “creative interpretation” of facts is nothing new, of course.

For example, a while back, Glenn Beck said: “Mitt Romney…gave you health care that is now bankrupting the state” of Massachusetts. I believe the state of the economy had something to do with the results he was referring to.

Howard Dean said: “Every other democracy in the world has a health care system that covers everybody, and we don’t.” Close, Mr. Dean, but you are only referring to really big democracies.

Bernie Sanders said: “We spend twice as much per capita on health care as any nation on earth.” Please don’t tell Austria, Switzerland, Norway or Canada that they are not currently on the earth.

Even the President of the United States can cross the line when he really, really wants to believe something is true. For example, in the midst of the Great Recession, President Obama said: “There is no disagreement that we need action by our government, a recovery plan that will help jump-start the economy.” Respectfully, Mr. President, many business owners (and a few Republicans) vehemently disagreed with this assertion. It was factually untrue.

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It makes me curious about the lenses I may be looking through when I find myself boldly declaring opinions veiled as facts. What about you?

So what does all this have to do with innovation you ask? The answer is simple: confirmation bias. Too many experts look for evidence that their opinion of how a problem should be solved is correct. In doing so, they sacrifice the opportunity to be curious and learn about possibilities, about needs, about ideas, about the truth.

This trap exists for anyone who passionately wants to believe in a particular way of thinking or doing. C.S. Lewis, noted novelist, academic and Christian apologist, made this point nicely when he said, “Most of us are not really approaching the subject (scriptures) in order to find out what Christianity says: we are approaching it (them) in the hope of finding support from Christianity for the views of our party.”

Sound familiar?

When was the last time you were willing to hear dramatically different perspectives at work? When was the last time you went looking for them outside your industry? Most of us don’t have the systems, culture or leadership in place to get fair and balanced feedback. If we aren’t willing to learn—and instead spend all our time trying to prove why we are right—eventually we put ourselves out of business. People and companies who know how to get truly fair and balanced perspectives eat our lunch.

So, the next time you hear a professor, a lawyer, a doctor, an agent, a store manager, etc., cite a “fact” about higher education, practicing law, medicine, insurance, or the state of retail today or in the future, remember these fine words from Mark Twain: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Now, for a joke: Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow and Mark Twain walk into a bar…(insert punch line here).

Follow me on Twitter @theideamonkey or read my Forbes blog here.

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