From guts to data driven decision making

Source: Wikipedia, License: CC0
There is a wonderful cartoon by Loriot, a German humorist (1923 - 2011), about a couple sitting at a breakfast table, arguing about how to boil a four-and-a-half minute egg. The answer appears simple, but husband and wife argue about how to measure the time using experience, feelings and expert judgment (wife) or a clock (husband).

The whole sketch is hilarious and is often regarded as a fine observation of miss-communication.

Yet, I think it really points out two different approaches in decision making: You can trust your guts or use data/measurements to support your decision.

A lot of industries are going through this transitions at the moment, and this transformation is not without frictions and power shifts, as I observe it in the insurance industry.

Without a stop watch or an egg-timer you need someone with good intuitive time keeping skills to cook a four-and-half minute egg. Experience and a good track record build credibility. Those people are scarce and expensive. With an egg-timer everyone can cook an egg. The magic is gone and with that the high salary for the old egg master. All you need is an instrument that can measure the observations on which your decision is based. Or, so it seems.

Hence, as more data is becoming available I believe we will see a power shift between the ‘old guys’, who rely largely on their experience, relationships (that means gossip) and guts to convince their management boards and the ‘new guys’, who use data to validate and support their story, who can compensate some of their lack of experience with analytics and come to a conclusion in a more objective way.

Those ‘new guys’ will make mistakes, but the smarter ones will work with the ‘old guy’, learn that there is a lot more context to know to truly understand the data. And they will work with the ‘old guy’ and the data to test lots of hypothesis/gossip and learn quickly.

Thus, if you are young and sharp, trained in the scientific method, know how to analyse and present data and like to engage with people, then you are well positioned to accelerate your career. Just make sure the clock is actually working! Otherwise it is garbage in, garbage out again. Or, as Seth Godin pointed out, having a clock which is randomly wrong is the worst of all clocks and you would be better off without one.

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