A couple of weeks ago I published a prototype thinking tool called “The Reverse Formulation Bullsh*t Detector” or “Crap Hammer”. This week, I’ve taken it out there into the world of LinkedIn Job listings to demonstrate its effectiveness. Take a look at the results… like all thinking tools (and tools in general) it’s not designed to be a stand alone item, but when used as part of a toolkit of ideas it helps you gloss over the useless data and get to the point of what someone, or something, is really saying.
Quick recap: What does it do?
Put in very simple terms, the Crap Hammer is a quick way of identifying useless information, pointless jargon and bullshit when you see it written down (and spoken, but it’s more effective on written material). It works on a simple principle too: All genuinely useful information is a category of data that stands the test of either being unarguable… e.g A fact, like “Product X costs £50” or reciprocally arguable, meaning if you wanted to disagree with a statement or a theory, you’ve got some kind of counter argument that has a similar weight and structure to the data you’re arguing with.
e.g. “I think product X is the best widget on the market” could be countered with
“But it’s not as cool to look at as product Y”
“the most important factor in a business is keeping costs down to a minimum” could be countered with “Actually, producing a quality product and carrying higher costs yields more sales than making things too cheaply”.
Anything that doesn’t fall into either category is irrelevant to the subject matter at hand. e.g. “We strive for excellence, and want to surprise and delight our customers” makes the person saying it sound like they’ve got high standards and aspirations. But in reality, it’s meaningless (Why? See below).
When you remove the irrelevant, meaningless filler data, what you’re left with is the real substance of what is being said.
Quick recap: How does it work?
Simple, just reverse the meaning of the words that sound a bit like bullshit. If reversing them makes the statement nonsensical, it’s 99.9% likely to be bullshit and you can ignore it. Here’s the basic mechanic, using the examples above:
- “Product X costs £50” (you can’t reverse this = useful data)
- “I think product X is the best widget on the market” (if you reverse it, i.e. “I don’t think product X is the best widget on the market” it still makes sense = useful data).
- “We strive for excellence, and want to surprise and delight our customers”. (If you reverse it, that says “We don’t try to for excellence, and we want to be predictable and leave our customers feeling a bit disappointed”. That’s nonsense = useless data.)
Quick Recap: Why is it useful?
A lot of what we see written by people and companies is really there to create a certain kind of impression in your mind. Creating an impression on someone is the basic skill of bullshitting. In a rational sense, the mental impression you take away from information characterises the people and companies you’ve met. It should come from your own internal thought processes and your gut instincts. In much the same way you decide if you like the taste of a particular foodstuff, or decide if you enjoy going to the cinema or a football match. It’s all about your inner voice and perception. But when someone tries to affect that impression, they’re trying to make you think the way they want you to think about them – which means, deep down, they are letting you know they’re not really convinced that you will.
It’s insecurity on their part.
They want you to think they are something they’re not fully convinced of themselves. That’s not always a bad thing, people are allowed to feel anxious or insecure, but giving a fake impression by trying to affect what people think about you is also the essence of confidence tricks, time wasters and bullshitters. No matter how much my mother told me that bananas were delicious and I should like them, the truth is I don’t. With matters of taste, you can’t really control your physiological reaction, it’s involuntary.
However, with matters of opinion, it’s not. Your opinion can be manipulated by other people, which is why you need to be aware of it if you have any hope of making an independent, rational decision about something.
Let’s see it in action:
Example 1: Use the hammer to cut through wishful thinking…
The Crap Hammer works well on dismantling bad deals presented as great opportunities. If you invert the terms “Stealth” “revolutionary” “facilitate” and “ground floor up” this doesn’t make sense. “Our obvious 3D game clients seeks a Community manager, Growth Hacker, Product Manager (that’s three different jobs being presented as one) to come aboard and hamper the growth of their mundane game from the top floor down” is nonsense.
The second highlighted section is harder to hammer (because it’s sooo long and detailed), but basically, not doing any of the things listed there wouldn’t be worth a pay cheque – it’s a start-up, all hands to the pumps etc. So this advert is about 50% crap. It’s designed to sell to people who love jargon and speak bullshit. In reality, it’s advertising for a dogs body in an organisation that is short on staff and resources, but presenting that opportunity in unrealistically positive terms. Which means the person writing it was enthusiastic, which is a good sign, but enthusiastic people tend to gloss over the downside, which in this case (I know as a start-up veteran myself) is stupid hours, little security and shit money.
Example 2: Just look at how amazing we are!
Let’s hammer this: “You will use your patchy knowledge to deliver disjointed solutions to our customers and also shrink and diminish your colleagues’ product knowledge. You won’t be proud of our lame products and services and apathetic about selling the downside of working for us and buying from us.” You see this a lot in job ads. The people who write them make it sound like you need to be a superhero, and the fate of the world is at stake.
The overuse of superlatives and description selfless, beneficent contributions expected from you and given by the company, renders the whole thing a bit laughable. In reality, it’s a job, and like all jobs you’ll take a while to bed into the role, it’s a company, they always have room for improvement. That’s life. Believing in the work you do, the products you sell (etc.) is great, ramming your company down other people’s throats will make you boring, possibly irritating and almost certainly sound like you’ve been brainwashed. It’s almost as though the person writing it is a six year old wishing for the bestest Transformers toy ever from Father Christmas because Transformers is the bestest movie ever. Grow up and calm down.
The Crap Hammer slammed down on this one, hard. How would you target a market with a product that was conceived without knowing what the customer wants and needed? That’s almost nonsensical, but it happens with the want part. People didn’t want TVs once, or computers, or cars.
Arguably they didn’t know they needed it or how to ask for it if they did. But unless you’re an inventor of a landmark, paradigm shifting product that will go down in history, this diagram is nonsense. Similarly, considering of the costs for *anything* you plan to make or sell, is pretty obvious. So is being aware of how you contact clients, and what they want to talk about. Finally, obviously you won’t sell many Ferraris in a budget supermarket, so yes, getting a handle on how people actually buy things and from where is fairly important. And really obvious. Trying to sell anything without knowing where and how your customers buy it is probably impossible… because you must have observed their behaviour in order to devise a product for them. The reverse of this diagram defines incompetence.
Whoever wrote this, is (I suspect) very impressed with themselves. Let’s reverse it: “We also doubt that in our industry it is initially nobody who makes the difference. It is nobody that creates ideas. It is nobody who delivers the media communications solutions and who doesn’t go that step further and makes no difference for our clients.” Pure gobbledegook. The word “believe” means something. It refers to matters for which you have no proof, belief refers to an article of faith, a prediction, an educated guess. The word “people” is a collective noun for a group human beings. So, this leaves us with the following meaning to the original statement:
“We have no proof, but have faith that in our industry it is ultimately a group of human beings who make the difference. It is a group of human beings who create the ideas. It is a group of human beings who deliver the media communications solutions and who go that step further and make a difference for our clients.”
Suddenly it makes the whole thing sound ridiculous because it’s not a belief, it’s actually a fact that a group of humans is required to make every business in the world function. Unless it’s a business set-up by a computer and run by robots, like in the Terminator movies.
Declaring the obvious as a belief makes you sound like you’re seeing the world with some amazing insight and vision that means you’re special. The person who wrote this thinks they’re special because they’ve noticed there are other people at the place where they work, but can’t prove that, by observing everyone else they know and every other company in the world, that it’s actually a basic fact of human existence as opposed to mere coincidence. That is special, clinically speaking. But not in a good way.
It’s a bit like me saying I believe that ultimately, it is human excrement that creates the demand for toilets and sewer systems in the modern world. I believe that my health is better because I don’t have to wade through a sea of shit and piss every time I open my front door to go to work. Etc.
Example 5: Use the hammer to work out if someone is trying to sell you an opportunity
This one is less extreme. It uses a common sales trick of asking you to describe yourself through the eyes of people you know and work with. However, obviously you can’t do that – because you don’t know how they would describe you if asked by someone else without you being there.
If you reverse the phrase to “Would colleagues and friends say you’re not…” then it becomes nonsense. It’s basically asking you if you’re lazy, couldn’t give a shit about your clients, give up easily and don’t have a sense of achievement… and worse, if your colleagues and so-called friends would say that about you.
Additionally, there is only one answer you can give to the question, which is “yes” – which is why it’s a good sales trick. In the old school world of pressure selling, getting people to answer “yes” is a key strategy in getting them to walk out of the room with a product they didn’t really want to buy. In this case, the recruiter is clearly interested in bums on seats, not the right bum on the right seat.
Example 6: Use the hammer to clarify the real deal
To end on a more serious note, this advert has some crap to hammer that is deeply challenging. When you reverse the combination of highlighted points, it’s basically saying that to get the job, you have to be unable to communicate, can’t lift a relatively light weight, find it hard to use your legs or bend your back, have repetitive strain injuries and be unable to work in a room full of other people. Which is nonsense. This ad discriminates against people with speech defects, mobility issues, people in wheelchairs, people who have suffered certain kinds of injury, agoraphobia, panic attacks, older women, older men… which might be perfectly reasonable if the job was described as something that implied necessary physicality like a lorry driver or a coal miner. But it’s not. It’s for an education role. They’ve mismatched the job title… the original said:
But it should really say:
Send me your examples and I’ll post them here! Keep hammering…