“He uses statistics in the same way that a drunk uses lamp-posts–for support rather than illumination.” While Andrew Lang was talking about politics when he said this in 1910, the Scottish poet could just as easily have been talking about the way many business leaders operate in the 21st century. It is human nature to look for information that agrees with our own preconceptions. This is called confirmation bias and it can be difficult to fight against when making data-driven decisions in the business world.
All of us are bombarded on a daily basis by information vying for our attention. We have a series of reports to look at. Do we give more weight to the ones that agree with what we think or the ones that challenge our beliefs? How do we prevent our own confirmation biases from letting us make poor business decisions?
As we’re presented with reports or information about our business, it is incumbent upon us to approach it like we’re pointy-eared aliens. We need to be dispassionate about the way that we treat information that we are presented. We need to ask the hard questions of those who are presenting us with the information. It is important to understand and account for the biases of those who are giving us data. As leaders, it is important that we stress to our staff that we want the right answers to questions even if they don’t toe the party line.
Look at the methodology that was used to produce the data in front of you. Don’t ignore flaws just because you agree with the conclusion. Conversely, don’t dismiss conclusions that you don’t like if there is no good reason to do so. Don’t let your own ego get in the way of making good choices. Ask the important questions:
1) How was the data gathered?
2) Who did the data collection?
3) How much data is there?
4) What statistical techniques were used?
5) Was any data eliminated from the calculations? If so, why?
If you want to make sure that the information you’re basing your decisions on is high quality, then you need to trust the system that is producing it. Some marketing cloud solutions are designed to help organizations ensure that they have the unbiased, quality information they need. However, it seems that there are few applications that allow marketers to fully understand their marketing plans across their enterprise. Imagine how valuable an application would be if it allowed marketing executives to fully understand their marketing plans across their enterprise and what the projected results of those plans would be. What about being able to merge information with actuals and identify how efficient your marketing spend was? These are all important elements to high-impact BtoB marketing plans.
The late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan is often quoted as having said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” I like to think that Andrew Lang would’ve liked Senator Moynihan’s quote. Have your own opinions, but don’t let them get in the way of the facts. There will be times when you have to let go of assumptions, and realize that you were wrong. There will also be times where you need to use the information that is available to you to show others that they’re mistaken. Use new data for illumination, not for support of potentially outmoded beliefs.