Tag Archives: business research

When Your Gut Screws Up Your Analysis, Shut Up and Listen

True story: my wife and I wanted to move but we weren’t sure where. In true MBA fashion, I set up a spreadsheet to compare candidate locations for a series of factor including outdoor sports, weather, smog, traffic, lifestyle, public education, crime, and so on.

So for each of about 12 possible places I input scores from 1 to 10 for each of the factors I’d identified. And when I didn’t like the original conclusion, I (without realizing it as I did it) changed the input factors until it did. We wanted to live in Eugene, Oregon.

I didn’t realize it then but I do now. I set up an objective analysis and then subconsciously messed with the inputs to generate the conclusion I wanted.

Do you ever do that?

Another true story: One of my daughters struggled with a job decision for weeks. She had a job, and she had a new job offer, and she liked them both. The choice was driving her crazy.

Finally, late one night, she called me up to share a spreadsheet analysis she’d done. As she went through the analysis and the input factors, I realized she was subconsciously cheating the scores towards one of the alternatives and away from the other.

I told her then that I thought she had just discovered what she should do. Her gut had chosen. The evidence was in the way she skewed and biased her objective analytics.

When your gut gets your numbers wrong, and screws up your objective analysis, shut up and listen.

(image: istockphoto.com)

The Fog of Research

Are you familiar with the phrase, “the fog of war?” You can get the idea from the image here, from a computer strategy game: the pieces in the center of the image can see the terrain for only a short distance, shown here as the brighter area. The rest is obscured by the fog of war.

Some days, bad days mostly, I think there’s something like this that goes on with most business research. They create the fog of research. It’s like the fog of war. Poor vision. Partial vision.

I think this happens all the time with focus groups and surveys. The research is almost always flawed because it’s almost impossible to get random people lists. Questions inadvertently distort results. People answer what they like to hear themselves or think of themselves answering, not the truth. Often they don’t know the truth. Surveys ask “would you buy this?” for example. “What price would you pay?” People often project who they want to be as they answer these questions. And focus groups: they depend on randomly chosen participants, but that almost never really happens. People can’t gather random people. And then one person — bad day, good day, some outside annoyance — can influence the whole group.

Then comes the problem of fog of research: once there is research in house, discussion gets fogged. People stop thinking fully, fairly, unwilling to question assumptions, and quick to devalue common sense. “After all, we have the research,” we say. “Let’s not ignore the research.”

I realize that this fog of research idea makes me seem to be against research, against analysis, and against study. I’m not, really; I’ve done a lot of research through the years.

What I do say is do the research, but don’t believe it blindly. Don’t lose your skepticism and common sense.

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(Image credit: from classic.battle.net)