Making Decisions with Data

  • May 21, 2009
  • Scott

Interesting post on ignoring data by Pete Warden.  The fascinating part about his post is that he argues (with evidence gathered from some other experts) – that sometimes you have to go beyond what the data tells you, or ignore the data, or do something in spite of what the data tells you.

It reminded me of many conversations I’ve had over the years about making “informed decisions”.  My emphasis is always that you should be aware of the data out there (especially when it is readily available) before making your decision.  Often I have run into resistance from the audience receiving this advice because, I think, they’re assuming that I think the data will prove them wrong – or that if the data indicates they should do something different, they won’t be able to do what they want.

Quite the contrary!  The point of making informed decisions can be spelled out quite simply:

  1. When the data confirms the decision you were about to make, you have more ammunition to rationally explain your actions to your superiors, your customers, or your team (or yourself!).
  2. When the data contradicts the decision you were about to make, and the data surprised you (different than your assumptions), you may want to do some further analysis to find out why the data wasn’t what you expected.
  3. When you decide to act contrary to what the data tells you, you’ll be doing it from an informed perspective – aware of the risks, and able to articulate why you’re taking those risks.

The point isn’t to replace human decision-making, it is to inform human decision-making.  If you don’t get informed decisions, you don’t get “some” decisions made with the gut, you get all of them made with the gut – something we humans aren’t that good at – and you lose the opportunity to learn from historical data (even those early gut calls).

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