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Friday, 7 September 2012

The importance of research


Did you have a good chuckle this morning when you read about how Alberta's human services minister, Dave Hancock, was mistakenly attacked in a US political ad campaign? For those of you that missed it, the (presumably Democratic) advertiser's intention was to target a Republican candidate in Minnesota with the same name. The mistake made was that it was a photo of Alberta's Dave Hancock that appeared in the ad. Our human services minister, in commenting on the incident, gave a chuckle and a remark about the importance of knowing your opponent. The story made for good comic relief this morning, but it also gave us pause to think: how many important decisions do we rush into, believing that our knowledge of the matter is complete when in actuality, this is not the case? The following is by no means a comprehensive list of lifestyle-decision categories that often suffer as a result of poor research, but these are the first that come to mind:

Insurance – you knew we'd say that, right? But in all honesty, purchasing insurance (home, renter's, car, travel, health) is a decision that most don't research thoroughly. In fact, the general approach taken towards the purchase of insurance, whether it's for one of the compulsory categories, or whether it's optional, is usually, “I've done it, and that's good enough; I don't have to think about it anymore.” There are good reasons why this is the case: trying to understand the nitty gritty of each category of insurance can be really intimidating; also, you are probably already heaped with responsibilities that demand your time, and hardly have any left to spare on researching insurance. Both of these reasons make a compelling case for you to see a specialist. That way, you can figure out quickly and effectively whether you are unnecessarily frittering away money.

Food – if you are what you eat, are you sure you want to be fd&c blue 2 aluminum lake? Me neither. Food is one of those categories where we unwittingly spend a considerable amount on substances that are actually harmful to us (and the irony here is that food should be nourishing us). The good news is that the kind of “research” that can help guard against that is very quick, and very easy: before you add something to your cart, read the ingredients, and read the nutrition label—even if it's something you've been buying for a long time, but never bothered to check before. You'd be surprised what you find (and don't find) in there; especially in products that are touted as being healthy in a way that masks their health risks (for example, “natural” protein bars that are made with high fructose corn syrup, or “fat free” frozen yogurt that makes up for the fat calories in obscene amounts of sugar).

Social commitments – it seems that most of the people I talk to lately feel overwhelmed with the amount of social obligations they have to keep up with. Activities they thought would take two hours end up taking six, they suddenly don't have any free nights in the week to decompress because they've agreed to be on a couple of committees (which seemed so modest at the time, but which both turn out to be very demanding). Before you agree to being somewhere, know where you'll be, and for how long. Then you can assess beforehand whether what you thought would be a good cause, or a good time, is really just a time sink.

The propensity for research doesn't come naturally; it's often easier to just take decisions as they come, and make them on the spot. But you should think of research as an investment: you can do a little bit now, or you can do a lot of it later.

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