Ignoring Facts and Hoping for a Miracle Cure

January 4, 2011
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PowerBalance, provider of trendy bracelets that are “designed to work with your body’s natural energy field”, have admitted that there’s “no credible scientific evidence that supports [their] claims and therefore [they] engaged in misleading conduct.”

Duh!

PowerBalance, provider of trendy bracelets that are “designed to work with your body’s natural energy field”, have admitted that there’s “no credible scientific evidence that supports [their] claims and therefore [they] engaged in misleading conduct.”

Duh!

Evolution has apparently hard-wired us to LIKE superstition. We don’t want to live in a world without magic cures, without horoscopes that guide our destiny, without deities that look after us. And it clearly applies to the business world, too. What is each trendy business fad but a “PowerBalance” promise of painless performance gains?

We all know that good business is a painful process of getting lots of little things right, day after day – but when it works (and when it doesn’t), we love simplifying that complexity and declaring that some aspect of it was “truly pivotal” and the rest didn’t matter.

Last year, I participated in a very successful customer meeting. It had been arranged by a very talented sales team, which had built a great relationship over the years, by delivering on promises and understanding the business. They were planning to demonstrate some business intelligence software running on an iPad to a large meeting of the customer’s senior employees – who had just received a talk from their CFO outlining the importance of better access to information to the performance of the organization. At the last minute, I was asked to help out with some of the presentation. The short, lively demonstration held people’s attention, and iPads were handed out (temporarily!) to attendees to try out the software themselves during the break after the session.

It was clear that this was the kind of event that should be repeated elsewhere. But as news spread of the event, the details were ruthlessly simplified – all mention of executive sponsorship, the great relationship, the seniority of the group being address, and the clear customer recognition of the need vanished, and all the success was ascribed to “the iPad demo”. Senior executives and marketing people rushed to arrange customer meetings elsewhere, and I was frequently called on to “do the same demo” – but to very different audiences, in very different circumstances.

When I attempted to explain the context, and talk about what else was needed for success, I had exactly the same impression I get when I try to point out to people that miracle cures and superstitions are unlikely to work – people didn’t really want to know. Because it’s hard. Because we have other things to do. Because it really would be much easier if we didn’t have to do those things, and so we would rather ignore them.

Conclusion: fact-based decision making isn’t just about having facts in the first place – it’s about not deliberately ignoring the facts you do have, while hoping for a miracle cure!