William Edwards Deming once said “In God we trust. All others bring data.” Some of the more recent data scientists say, “Let the data speak for themselves!” However, the question is how much this approach is acceptable when it comes to decision making realm?
A recent article in Harvard Business Review by Cassie Kozyrkov (‘The First Thing Great Decision Makers do’) has tried to answer this question. The article itself is short and we encourage you to read it, but here we try to summarize its main points, and shortly discuss them.
Kozyrkov explains that since humans are prone to cognitive biases, a decision maker should always set her decision criteria and make a frame for her “decision context” before starts to look into the data. This may protect her of making “data-inspired” decision when “swim around in the numbers” and eventually reaches to her emotional tipping point and decides. So, Kozyrkov believes that we should commit to our default decision before looking into the data. This view, however, may seem to encourage list of cognitive biases like IKEA effect, availability, anchoring, and confirmation biases, thus is in contrast with the concept of “letting the data speak for themselves”. Therefore, it is extremely important for a decision maker to well define valid decision criteria and boundaries to make sure she will ask the right questions when looking into the data to test her hypothesis, and not just looking for evidence to support her default decision!
Kozyrkov believes in order to not get into the traps of the mentioned biases, “order matters!”; meaning first frame the decision context and decide what to do in the absence of further data as well as what you need to see and in which magnitude in the data to talk you out of your “default decision”. Only and only then, you are ready to dig into the data.
We at Avrogan fully support this view, and have almost more or less the same approach when looking into the data to support a decision-making process for ourselves or our clients:
1- Define/know your hypothesis, default decision, belief, or even your gut feeling in a specific decision-making scenario
2- Dig into the data with the aim of proving wrong your beliefs, your gut feelings, your hypothesis, or your default decision. Try hard to prove yourself wrong, like your life depends on it!
3- If you cannot find even small evidence against your hypothesis, then go for it. But if you find even a small piece of data or information against your hypothesis, respect it and possibly follow its lead to gather more evidence to avoid being trapped in any of our human biases
What is your approach when you want to look into the data for making a decision? Share your comments and thoughts with us.
Read the full article in HBR: