By Jim McCarthy Mar 27, 2012 0 comments

Bad Data, Good Intuition and Enchanting the Citizens of Munchkinland

The other day, in a meeting here at Goldstar, someone justified a decision they were announcing on the basis of some data that was supposedly “proven” by something we had tested before in the company.

Ok, that’s so vague, I’ll make up something ridiculous to use instead of real facts and names.  Let’s start again…

The other day, in a meeting here at Goldstar, Trogdor, our Senior Manager of Sales to Munchkinland, announced that he was going to cast an enchantment spell on our customers in Munchkinland using a magic wand made of metal rather than wood, because our tests had proven that it didn’t matter what the magic wand is made of because they all resulted in just about as many enchanted customers.  Any old material would do.  Maybe even plastic.

Trogdor stated this as a fact, proven by evidence.

Except no such evidence existed.  Some six or nine months ago, there was a study of magic wands, wherein the traditional wooden wands were tested against metal wands, and with a small amount of data, there was a completely inconclusive and incomplete preliminary piece of work that suggested that it was possible, in some circumstances, that metal wands could be effective, but that in essence we didn’t know anything yet.

But Trogdor didn’t need to hear anything else.  Off he went, attempting to enchant the countryside with a metal magic wand, even though intuitively everyone knows magic wands should be made of wood.

There was nothing wrong with the initial data; it was simply inconclusive and opened up some questions, which ultimately didn’t pan out, when it came to metal wands.  The problem was in Trogdor’s use of that data, or to be more accurate, rumors about that data that weren’t really true.  The funny thing of course is that Trogdor’s intuition would have told him that metal wands couldn’t possibly be as good as wooden wands, but armed with “proof” to the contrary, he was willing to march off to certain defeat in Munchkinland because metal wands are cheap and plentiful.

“In God We Trust.  All Others Must Use Data” is one of our informal mottoes around here, but half-baked, incorrect, mis-analyzed data is worse than going with your gut, especially if that gut has some training and experience.  Data, when believed, has a kind of tyrannical power once it’s let loose because who can argue with facts?  Yes, absolutely, fair enough, but be sure you’re getting the facts right.

Or, like Trogdor, instead of enchanting the Munchkins, you could end up enraging them instead.

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