Use Data to Inform Decisions, Not Make Them
Opinion in the absence of evidence or facts is bias or whim. Good leaders work hard to distinguish between unsupported opinions (of which there are many) and evidence-based viewpoints. Using data and numbers to help leaders and teams make quality decisions is, finally, the norm. Leaders across the world rely on data — big and small — to inform their decision-making and guide them toward better outcomes.
Yet, some leaders like data too much. Or said more accurately, they like data that supports their conclusions too much. They eschew numbers and facts that call their conclusions into question. This is the crux of a pervasive problem: identifying data to support an argument instead of analyzing data to understand a situation.
Leaders who stack the deck with data supporting their existing viewpoint are no better than leaders who make decisions armed only with opinions. Data serves an essential role, but requires leaders to understand that no spreadsheet exists that can determine the path forward.
We never know what data will matter until we understand the qualities of a situation and how others see it. Once leaders have a view, they can use data to inform their decisions. The best leaders never rely on data to make the decision. Through debate, risk assessment, and a thorough examination of the options, effective leaders marshal all of the data to move them toward a conclusion.
The comedian George Carlin liked to step on stage and inform the audience, “Here are the sports scores: 5, 22, 8, 17. And a partial score from Notre Dame, 6.” His point was straightforward. Without a strong frame of reference, numbers and data don’t mean much.