I like data and facts especially when making any decision of significance. Hyperbole and headlines are much less useful and often lie somewhere between wrong and dangerous. When an issue is important, I always try to get down to the lowest available level of data so that I can understand it for myself and determine if I am in the agreement with the conclusions being drawn.
Perhaps the best book I ever read on this point is Rival Hypotheses by Schuyler W. Huck (originally published 1979). In his book, Huck lays out 100 cases and the conclusions drawn from observed data in the original study. If I remember correctly, only one or two of the conclusions were valid. The rest were flawed, and Huck goes on to explain the error of the original study. I read his book while at Carnegie Mellon and it has influenced my thought process to this day.
When I was at LensCrafters, my team and I published the results of various marketing tests every Friday afternoon. The document was normally 100 pages filled with tables of data and a written narrative of our conclusions. At one point, we were challenged to provide an executive level summary in one line for each initiative (usually at least six but sometimes a dozen or more). We didn’t know it at the time, but it was an early form of a Tweet (just lower tech and nowhere near the old 140-character limit). We had to be concise and accurate. Our reputations were on the line along with our careers. These “sound bites”, however, were trusted due to the rigor and depth of the underlying analysis.
In an age where we are bombarded with headlines and sound bites that can travel around the globe with lightning speed it’s more important than other to do some digging yourself or have a deep trust in the source. I’ve seen misinformation spread like wildfire in large and small companies alike. A false conclusion can quickly get circulated and repeated as though it were fact. Sometimes this is intentional; others it is due to a lack of analytical rigor, and sometimes it’s unclear or inaccurate communication.
But whether in business or your daily lives, it’s important to consider the informational source especially when time does not permit personal fact checking.
How reliable is the sound bite flow in your company? And when pressed, can people provide the data and facts to back it up?
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