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Reading Reviews vs. Knowing the Thing

Tuesday June 25, 2019

One of the big risks taken by INTJs while embarking on a knowledge journey is relying on reviews to pick a product. We tend to really love reading reviews and we love for this activity to work with extra-high leverage in our favor.

If there’s something in our Amazon wish list, or if there’s some online course we’ve got sitting in the cart, or if there’s some higher-ed program we’re looking at, it’s likely due in large part to an inquiry into an external batch of perceptions.

This is why INTJs are some of the first people you’ll hear complaining about things like Amazon reviewers receiving products for free. The INTJ (as a type; individuals may vary) wants the review process to be pure, ethical, untainted. Writing a review is practically a sacred practice for us! We know this because we metabolize review content very easily and generally with high expectations.

And that’s one of our key cognitive shortcuts in action, our “hard science” of gaining “knowledge.” Quotes intentional.

You may recall that this can also open us up to manipulation, ridicule, and other revelations regarding one of our painful blind spots.

I mean I haven’t READ it, I just skimmed some reviews online, but from what I recall…

Reading a lot of reviews about a thing, or having general, abstract knowledge of a thing, can also trick us into believing that we have actually experienced the thing.

You’re probably already aware of the amazing aspects of this. The movie Flight of the Phoenix is a good example of the way this can work, if you’re familiar with the engineer character’s background (if not, watch it, both old & new versions are pretty good). Sometimes it’s enough to know the general theory. Especially when no one else has a clue. In these cases, information was efficiently gained and efficiently applied, and this is kind of an INTJ ideal. Too bad it can’t happen every time.

On the other side of that, there’s nothing like having some sense beat into you by reality when you go to apply knowledge that you gleaned from a bunch of reviews, or from skimming a bunch of books, or from watching a Youtube documentary at 1.5x speed. And on top of that, when you realize you are standing in company of experts. People who have probed depths of the thing. Perhaps even the very people you forgot that you watched in a video, with their words spitting out of your screen and sounding intensely intellectual. “Gee, you sounded a bit daft in real life; I didn’t even know it was you!”

(Is this hurting yet? Geez, it hurts me to write it!)

A Summary of Summaries

A while back I subscribed to a book summary service for executives, which in my mind’s eye unlocked potentially massive amounts of knowledge. Going into this, I remember thinking that I could acquire an incredible diversity of knowledge in a very efficient way, and thereby…

…meet some kind of goal? Never be unprepared? Be the best, like no one ever could? Hmm, something like that!

Anyway, I used the service for a while and then, like many other services and udemy accounts before it, it sat unused for a long time.

As it turns out, I didn’t need it. I’m glad I thought critically about the experience, but having such immediate access to such broad (and correspondingly shallow) reviews turned out to be a waste.

While the summaries were helpful and well-written, I think that kind of thing would be most useful for someone who’s always being tested on the latest trendy business or self-improvement books. Socially tested, probably. Maybe that person works in an NT organization. (This makes me weep a bit out of pity, because like any organization, NT organizations can have their own really cringy and even destructive customs, and I’ve experienced many of them. Every organization needs some flex and balance.)

How it Feels to know a thing

This brings me to something of which it’s helpful to be aware: This broad knowledge-seeking trait, the review-seeking, breezy knowledge buffet-seeking behavior, feeds into one of the INTJ’s core fears:

I can’t be caught dead not knowing about something.”

This, by itself, is frequently enough to prevent an INTJ from deepening their knowledge about things that are important to them. Being more analytical. Really getting into analysis and feeling proud of the accomplishment of creating or designing a unique framework or method.

Going a step beyond that subjective-analysis gift, I’d like to assert that to really know about something is akin to experiencing it via every single one of the Jungian functions.

To get hands-on. To get down and dirty. To imagine the thing. To feel it clashing with one’s own values, and to even watch those values shift as you gain experience with a personal system of values! To estimate the way it fits with societal standards. To visualize the way it will probably help you.

Such a standard is, among other things, appropriately humbling. You can master some things, but you probably can’t master all. Well, deal with it! Awareness is more empowering than an unsustainable goal of knowledge-perfection.

If we can’t be caught dead not knowing a thing,

(and I don’t recommend trying to run hard and fast away from that core fear,)

let us at least know what it is, or is not,

to really know a thing.

Suggested Exercises

  • Develop a standard for establishing the quality of a product as compared to your needs. This standard should work well in the absence of third-party reviews.
  • Think about products you purchased in the past, and about which you read reviews. Products which you would not purchase if you could go back in time. (the “reading reviews is my secret superpower” ego may get in the way, so try to keep a humble viewpoint)
  • Write a review on a thing. Keep the review to a “normal” length, say 250 to 500 words. As you write, think about the kind of people to whom the main points of your review wouldn’t really matter. Think about those to whom you would definitely recommend and the people to whom you would not recommend that thing.
  • Next time you buy something, establish subjective criteria on your own before you read any reviews. As you buy more of that type of thing, update your list of personal criteria with things you’ve learned from your subjective experience of that product or service.
  • When writing your next review, read and gauge the emotional or feeling-qualities of your critical voice. Professional critics usually develop a nuanced and even friendly tone. How could your voice be altered to convey a more educated or deeply-familiar tone? There are often members of a reviewer’s audience who will naturally come to an opposite appraisal, as their subjective experience or psychology differs.

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