Nothing Ruins a Good Story Like Good Research

Dave Kinnear 1-On Leadership, 3-LI

Either your own good research or someone else’s good research. It’s a bummer. It has to do with confirmation bias. We tend to find facts, data and anecdotes that support our hypothesis. When we “put ourselves out there” and make a definitive statement as though it is factual, and then have someone who happens to “know” spout off some valid research that totally ruins our story, it’s a real bummer.

One would think we’d learn our lessons, right? NEVER make a statement without full factual, thoroughly researched and irrefutable data. Right. Here’s the rub (excuses). Rarely do we have time to make such an investment in research for the average day-to-day issues with which we deal. We can’t possibly keep up with all the latest information, things are changing too fast. Oh, and here’s the best (most solid and realistic) one: you and I can both study the same fresh and accurate data and draw different conclusions. Human brains are messy, complex, fallible things.

And leaders, as it turns out, are human. So what’s an answer here? First, a bit of humility. Recognize that even if you do all the hard, thorough and relevant data analysis, honest and intelligent people can draw different conclusions based on the same data. Second, admit that the effort it takes for you to do this research first hand is not always a possibility, so learn to trust others to help you – even as you are skeptical and are willing to ask a few clarifying questions of your research team. Try your best to see how the data might be viewed differently to disprove your hypothesis.

In short, leaders would do well to employ the scientific method when it comes to their hypothesis on major topics – such as where the economy is going, where your particular industry is going, what the global economy might be doing. The scientific method? In short, develop a hypothesis that appears to explain the observed phenomenon and then do everything you can to devise experiments and gather data to disprove your hypothesis. And transparently report your experiences and conclusions to others who can try to replicate and disprove as well.

Hard work, for sure, and certainly not for every decision we make. Over time, the research we do for the big things (technology trends, market trends, customer needs, etc.) will be mostly in place and require only updating at critical junctures. The effort is definitely worth the security of knowing we have the latest data and are on the right track. Many companies fail because they do not have the correct vision of where their customers are going. They are blindsided by disruptive technology.

What will you do to make sure your good story isn’t ruined by someone else’s good research? Is your team willing to try to disprove their own hypothesis about how things really are? Can you build a culture of always “checking our stories” and just as importantly, checking the stories our customers and vendors tell?