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!
Filed under Consulting, Huh?
If you have any interest in presidential politics or are the kind of person who can’t look away from a trainwreck, then you probably tuned into the shouting match between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton last evening. It was billed as a debate but as we’ll see in a second, it was anything but. It did, however, teach us something about business.
Debates between presidential candidates have been going on for centuries. You’ve heard of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. While those weren’t about a presidential election, they are fine examples of classic debating form. This is an excellent definition from the International Debate Education Association:
Debate embodies the ideals of reasoned argument, tolerance for divergent points of view and rigorous self-examination. Debate is, above all, a way for those who hold opposing views to discuss controversial issues without descending to insult, emotional appeals or personal bias. A key trademark of debate is that it rarely ends in agreement, but rather allows for a robust analysis of the question at hand.
Was that what we watched last night? I think not. But it’s something to keep in mind as you bring together people in business to debate ideas. How often are ideas discussed freely and openly in your place? When a boss is in the room, how free do the subordinates feel to oppose his or her point of view? Do facts surface that allow for the robust analysis which is the goal, or are people entrenched in the positions with closed minds?
Imagine if last night had been a moderated discussion, based in fact, of how to fix a problem our country is having. The goal isn’t to convince people to vote one way or the other but to surface the different, well-reasoned points of view about approaches to an issue and allow the voters to make their minds up on that basis. Nice dream, right?
Now think about trying to do that in a business setting. Maybe it’s the person or persons who need to make the decision that moderate. I suspect the decisions taken after such a debate will be sounder than those that follow free-form arguing, politicking the boss, or emotional exchanges. Maybe we should debate it?
Over the years, it’s been a main tenet of the screed that we don’t do politics in this space. I’m going to veer close to the line today although please believe me when I say that my interest here is only to use something that’s been happening in politics to make a business point.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It appears that Donald Trump has assured himself of being the nominee of the Republican Party. What started out as somewhat of a sideshow became the main act as Trump sent 15 other more “mainstream” candidates packing. The response of the party elders has been along the lines of this quote:
With Trump’s success, “I’m watching a 160-year-old political party commit suicide,” said Henry Olsen, an elections analyst with the Ethics and Public think tank.
That’s mild compared to some other statements, and the morning shows have been filled with Republicans mourning the death of their party and expressions of fear about the forthcoming November debacle.
As an observer of all things business-related, I find the entire thing both logical and instructive. Think of the Republican party as a business that has only one competitor (Donkey Co.) in their business sector. Let’s call the business Elephant Co. For most of their customers, using the other business isn’t an option because the product Donkey Co. sells is totally unacceptable. As it turns out, the product the Elephant Co. has been selling hasn’t been totally satisfactory either. The management of Elephant Co. was way more focused on the upcoming sales season than on customer satisfaction and delivering on the product promises they had made. Each model year they’d make promises and ask for money, and each time they didn’t really deliver (while continuing to ask for money for maintenance). What would you expect to happen? I’d expect the customers to revolt. In my mind, they’d send a message to Elephant Co’s management.
That’s what I think has happened here. We have a political party that’s out of touch with a significant segment of its customer base. No company can afford to ignore customer feedback. No brand can fail to deliver on the promises it makes on a consistent basis over a long period of time. As Ray Davies of the Kinks wrote, “You gotta give the people what they want.” In this case, since the people weren’t being given it, they’ve decided to take matters into their own hands and send management a message. That’s my take. Yours?