Thursday, February 3, 2011

"All you have is an opinion"

I recently saw an email signature to the effect of "If you don't have data then all you have is an opinion". I felt a mixture of sarcasm and disgust. People actually think this way, I used to think this what's wrong with it?

Data is not the end-all, be-all of every business decision, nor every decision in life for that matter. In fact, I posit that strictly data-driven decisions, made in a vacuum of ignorance of other factors, make up a very small percentage of life's decisions. I remember in my Black Belt training that the instructor said "this doesn't really apply to real-life situations, don't take this home with you and ask your wife to follow it". At the time it was a side joke for the participants but looking back now, I see it as a glaring admission of the limited nature of data-driven decision making. If Six Sigma can help companies save billions of dollars then why not apply it at home? Why not use it to make all of life's decisions....?

The problem is that there is more to life than data, just like there is more to business than data.  You have to consider the emotional needs of your family, the legal ramifications, the thoughts of your neighbors, etc. when you make a decision in real life. It's the same in business. You must consider all of the thoughts and feelings of your "stakeholders" in order to be successful. Data is a powerful tool but it is only one tool out of many. It certainly is NOT an easy shortcut to every decision to be made in business, no matter how much people want it to be. There are NO easy decisions in business and there are NO shortcuts. If you don't believe that, then you and your company will eventually fail, in a big way or a small way.

I'm not big on email signature quotations but maybe that person should change theirs to say "In business and life, all you have is an opinion". Of course, that's my opinion...what do you think? Let me know here or on my LinkedIn page....

1 comment:

  1. Good point! Only too bad that the "number junkies" (ie. the spreadsheet managers that only know data-driven decision making - if any at all) will never read this...

    I like Errol Morris' 2003 documentary on Robert S McNamara, the eleven life lessons. As for me, they're also applicable to business decision making:
    - Empathize with your enemy (competitor)
    - Rationality will not save us
    - There's something beyond one's self
    - Maximize efficiency
    - Proportionality should be a guideline (in war)
    - Get the data
    - Belief and seeing are often both wrong
    - Be prepared to re-examine your reasoning
    - In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil
    - Never say never
    - You can't change human nature