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Notes From Kate White: 5 Ways to Know What Matters Most

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Good afternoon Friend,

A few weeks ago a friend of mine told me a story that could almost serve as the opening page of the next mystery novel I write. Her sister had received a call from a man who introduced himself with this chilling sentence, “My name is Jack and I think we should talk–because your husband is having an affair with my wife.”

I’ve never met my friend’s sister but at that moment I really ached for her. However, a few minutes later, as I was walking home along the streets of Manhattan, I started to feel something else for her: relief. “At least she knows now,” I thought to myself.

Knowing changes everything. When you know something you can take action, whether it’s making the adjustments your boss requires for you to be promoted, obtaining the medical treatment you need, or confronting an unfaithful husband (and then deciding whether to throw him out on his ass or give the marriage another try). You’re out of the wondering or agonizing phase and actually doing what’s necessary.

One of the people that helped me really appreciate the power of information is Jane Buckingham, CEO of Trendera, a company that conducts consumer research and also predicts trends. I hired Jane the first week I started at Cosmo and over the years she provided me with a ton of very helpful reader data. Jane’s name probably appears more than anyone else’s in my book I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: How to Ask for the Money; Snag the Promotion, and Create the Career You Deserve, which by the way, came out in paperback today. (I’d love to have you pick up a copy. It’s got the best secrets I learned in my career.)

But here’s one of the tricky aspects of knowledge. Sometimes it stings. And because of that we may choose to avoid it, ignore it, or convince ourselves it doesn’t matter. Jane sees smart business people do that all the time with the research she presents them.

Jane helped me appreciate that if knowledge is going to help you take charge, you have to be willing to look for scary information and then accept the facts even if they suck.

Recently Jane and I caught up on the phone about the subject and she shared a few more thoughts.

  1. Now more than ever, you must be willing to dig deep. Jane points out that because information is so readily available these days, we’ve become spoiled and often simply skim the surface. Which unfortunately doesn’t always get us to the truth. Here’s a perfect example. On Google, the headline “Actor Eddie Murphy Dies in Snowboard Accident” appears higher than the factual headline, “Actor Did Not Die in Snowboard Accident.” Jane believes that digging deep also means taking the time to decipher and apply critical thinking.
  2. The loudest piece of information is not necessarily the truest. Jane sees that in her research. And it’s something that I came up against in my Cosmo days. When Twitter first exploded, for instance, I started paying attention to what users said about the latest cover, thinking it could be an early predictor of sales info and that maybe one day I’d even be able to use Twitter to help me pick the right cover subjects. But the number of positive tweets about a cover bore no relation WHATSOEVER to how an issue sold. In other words, don’t let all the noise fool you.
  3. When you react negatively to data, as in “That is so not true,” be aware that it may actually be hitting a nerve. Relax, put the information aside for twenty-four hours and then consider it with a cool head. For just thirty minutes, allow yourself to accept that it really is true and consider what that means for your work and/or your life.
  4. When you can’t decide on something because the information is confusing or contradictory, get more information. When there’s not a clear choice, we often simply stall or freeze. But keep gathering findings and the truth will emerge.
  5. Sometimes the best information comes from unlikely or non-traditional places. Don’t just Google, Jane says. Listen, observe, and be ready to gather from sources you’ve never considered before.

Kate White

Want to learn more ways to figure out what is most important?

Read another from Kate White letter here about what should matter most in your career!

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