Dead Wrong

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the events of the last couple of days and not all of them pertain to our politics. One question I think I hear from people who fall all across the political spectrum is “how could almost every prediction be so wrong?” After all, putting aside the prognostications of loyalists on either side, none of the pollsters and data-based predictors got this right.

I’m not going to go into the politics but we can learn some valuable business lessons here. I’m not sure this was a case of garbage in, garbage out. That said, it’s clear that the legacy systems from which samples are drawn such as calling landline telephones are not accurate anymore. The real issue is one that I think we have in business, though, which is the inability to tell the difference between “good” data and noise. More importantly, we tend to rely on faulty data to the exclusion of both external factors and our own common sense. We like to tell stories that can be believed, and that happens when the stories echo popular beliefs. We focus on things that have happened already and in so doing we often miss subtle undertones that tell us what went before may not indicate what will come next.

We also suffer from the echo chamber in business. We talk to our coworkers and reinforce faulty information. We tell the tales that our tribe shares and miss those from the outside – the other tribes.

I was just as bad as many of you on Tuesday. I said more than once “unless every poll is dead wrong, it’s going to be a short night.” Well, they were and so was I. While the pollsters will have to wait 4 years to show they’ve learned how data can’t be the only thing we consider as we make decisions about the right path, you get that chance the next time some information crosses your desk. Take it!

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