Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Don't be Afraid to Question the Data

“Don’t fall in love with the data.” – Frank Sesno

Not many companies ignore data these days since it’s often thought to be the secret sauce that’s going to lead to greater success.
Yet data can be an inexact science.  Whether it’s erroneously predicting the winner of a presidential election or the number of expected flu cases in a certain year,  data science is a technology that “can see things as never before, but also can be a blunt instrument, missing context and nuance,” finds The New York Times.
That’s why companies cannot be lulled into complacency when it comes to data, and must instead be ready to question it thoroughly, says Frank Sesno, a former CNN anchor.
Sesno, author of “Ask More: The Power of Questions to Open Doors, Uncover Solutions, and Spark Change,” says that teams and leaders can’t ignore their “gut instinct”, relying only on data to make decisions or predictions.
Experts say that data science is just another tool, and it’s designed to provide probabilities, not absolute answers. In addition, companies must understand that those who build the predictive models may have flawed assumptions or be mistaken about what data is most important to a company’s objective or strategy.
Data also can lead to teams not relying on their own knowledge and experience to come up with the best solutions. Researchers found in a study that 60% of radiologists asked to analyze a routine chest x-ray failed to detect that a collarbone was missing – because they were so familiar with data that trained them to expect to see one.
So, how do organizations use data to its best advantage? Experts say it begins with committing to a strategy that uses data – but not to the exclusion of anything else.

Asking the right questions

Sesno, who has interviewed five presidents and other world leaders, is now director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University. He says that his journalism training has taught him the power of asking the right questions, and he’s learned even more from people like Colin Powell, former Secretary of State and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Dr.  Anthony Fauci, who was critical in cracking the HIV/AIDS mystery.
While data certainly adds to the overall picture when it comes to forming a strategy or developing goals, Sesno says that teams can’t “park their common sense” when using it and must still:
  • Ask diagnostic questions. “What’s wrong?” “How do we know?” and “What are we not seeing?” are all way (read more here)

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