And the Winner Is … Business by Data

Not even close, at least in the business sector.

In the last posting, I suggested that court managers listen actively and patiently to what people have to say no matter what truth-finding ways and means they’ve used including: (1) the truth we feel (including “truthiness”); (2) the truth that is given to us; (3) the truth we ferret out ourselves by reason and logic; (4) and the truth we perceive through our senses and empirical data, including performance information.

No one method is foolproof, I argued. Each can complement and correct the mistakes of the others. Better to use all four methods, though we may favor one. The common ground is where the truth is more likely to reside.

I advised – sensibly I think -- that we not we not discredit those who prefer to reach the truth in ways different from ours. Apparently, business does not see it that way.

“We’ve had management by objective and total quality management. Now it’s time for the latest trend in business methodology: management by data,” writes Scott Thurm in last Monday’s Wall Street Journal. He quotes Stanford business professor Robert Sutton praising data-driven enterprise and deriding prior business management techniques as “faith, fear, superstition and mindless imitation.” Professor Sutton is co-author with Jeffrey Pfeffer of Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense. Strong words!

In my defense, I say, first, I agree to a degree. After all, I am a champion of performance measurement and see it as a foundational organizational system upon which all other organizational systems (e.g., strategic planning) depend. Second, by suggesting that we balance data-driven truth-seeking with intuition, heart, common sense, history, logic and reason, I espouse the ever so sensible discipline of mental models as put forth by management guru Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline. At the very least, says Senge, becoming more aware of the mental models or preconceptions of others – including their truth-seeking ways, I would add -- can help you become a more nimble leader and manager.

In fairness, the Wall Street Journal acknowledges that in at least one key area –innovation -- business success cannot come from data-drive truth-seeking alone. David Girouard, a vice president and general manager of Google, is quoted as saying: “You can’t time or plan for innovation. It has to come from the heart of somebody with an idea.” Scott Thurm of the Wall Street Journal concludes his article by saying that there’s “no single formula for business success.”

So, while I would agree that the business by data is the front runner, other ways of getting to the single version of the truth may not be far behind. Why not award some silver and bronze instead of disparaging the efforts? I stick to my advice to allow people to be heard who do not necessarily use the scientific method to seek their version of the truth.

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