Seth’s Blog: When data and decisions collide

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When data and decisions collide

Until recently, most of the decisions we were called on to make were based on hunches, insight and a little bit of data. Occasionally, a field like direct marketing would develop into something quite data-driven (“I don’t care if you like mailer one, Smythe, mailer #2 did three times, better! Number 2 it is.”) but not often.

It took Ignaz Semmelweis more than twenty years (he died before it happened, actually) to persuade doctors that washing their hands could save the lives of mothers giving birth. He had the data, he had the proof, but that wasn’t enough to change minds.

Data mining and the proximity of the internet to most of what we do is changing the proximity of proof to decision. Now, you don’t need to do a lot of research, the data is just a click away.

What are you going to do when your hunches don’t match the data that’s now pouring in?

The data shows, for example, that texting while driving is more dangerous than driving drunk. It doesn’t feel that way, of course, but will you respect the data and stop, cold turkey?

The data shows that the vast majority of wine drinkers can’t tell the difference between a $20 bottle and a $100 bottle. Will that keep you from buying the fancy wine? How much is the placebo effect worth?

The data shows that famous colleges underperform many cheaper, friendlier, smaller colleges. How much is your neighbor’s envy worth?

These are just a few of the millions of examples of counter-intuitive data-driven findings. It took Galileo decades to persuade people the light objects fell as fast as heavy ones… even though he was busy dropping them off buildings for all to see. I wonder how long it will take us to get our arms around this avalanche of insight. Probably longer than most of us think, and marketers that jump too quickly to data are going to be disappointed (while lifehackers that use the data are going to continue to have a huge advantage).

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Posted by Seth Godin on November 04, 2009 | Permalink

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Great post by Seth concerning data and our hunches.

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