Believe the data, not opinions

Believe the data, not opinions

One of the things I'm really passionate about is data and how it can be used to influence decision-making. But everyone has their own personal biases and opinions that they use to create a narrative and this can affect how they look at data. So even when the data tells us one thing, we may see something completely different.

For example, I recently read an article which looked at what people actually die from in the US compared to what they search for on Google and what the media talks about. This showed that the number of people who die from terrorism or homicide is negligible compared to those who die from heart disease and cancer. But terrorism and homicide are what the media focus on in almost 50% of their coverage. Based on the media-driven narrative we’re fed, it’s very easy to believe that we’re living in a disaster zone, which is simply not the case.

Data vs. opinion - Causes of death in the US

I saw another example of how narratives can lead people to ignore the data recently when watching the federal election in Australia. From the moment the first few votes trickled in, it was clear who was going to win the election. But it was fascinating to see how the newsroom commentators clearly didn’t believe the data because they had already built up a narrative in their minds about the way it was going to go. So they were waiting for the data to magically change and it didn’t.

The reality is that statistics don't work that way - a small sample can tell you a lot about what the end result will be.

To me, these two examples encapsulate the problems that organizations have when it comes to believing personal opinion about what's happening in the business rather than the cold hard facts. Leaders in an organization need to take a step back and look at what the data is telling them about what's going on. They need to challenge the dominant narrative and focus on what the numbers are actually saying.

By continually questioning the narrative, you can see what’s really happening rather than what you think is happening. This is how you can make a real impact on your organization. If the government and media did this, then their narrative would focus on heart disease and cancer rather than terrorism and homicide and we would have a better chance of saving our loved ones.  

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