Less Dogma Equals Better Decision Making

August 17, 2015
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Unless you’re Donald Trump—a fellow who’s always right, even when he’s wrong—there’s not much benefit to dogmatism. That’s because some of the biggest breakthroughs come as a result of challenging assumptions; especially those that are commonly accepted. Even better, it’s important to put processes, systems and people in place to constantly provoke our pre-conceived notions and help ensure we’re ready to jump on opportunities as they arise.

Today’s facts are ripe for the picking. After all, Lord Kelvin’s famous statement; “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible” or Thomas Watson’s 1943 declaration; “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers” show us that what’s true today, may not be true tomorrow.

For example, when Netflix’s stock tanked in 2011 as Amazon introduced its own video service, pundits declared “Netflix has already picked all the low-hanging fruit”. In the same year, when its stock dropped 52%, Netflix was declared just about dead. Meanwhile, online video growth and smart devices connected to the internet kept marching on. Today, Netflix is worth more than CBS! And any investor who stuck with Netflix through those tumultuous years racked up an appreciation of 100% or more!

To seize new opportunities, executives need to constantly review their articles of faith—or convictions of how the world works. The challenge, however is that too many of today’s leaders “like what they like” and “know what they know”. New and valuable information is often declared anathema or quickly discarded, especially when it contradicts an already stated direction or opinion.

Moreover, our information systems aren’t helping very much. That vaunted “single source” of truth—whether enterprise data warehouse in the early 2000s or enterprise data lake today, still looks far from reality, especially as today’s data lakes are mostly used as data dumping grounds from which various LOB data marts import spurious and questionable data sets. And this, of course, leaves us with an opportunity to find data sets or evidence that matches what we already believe.

This is dangerous territory we’re charting. Our inability to challenge ingrained assumptions, coupled with poor data quality will lead to some risky and possibly disastrous decisions in the near future. Add to the mix “smartest guys in the room” executive hubris syndrome, and you have an Enron-type stew in the making.

There are solutions. First, realize that the obstinate mind is not your friend. Financial Times columnist John Kay has it right when he says; “To admit doubt, to recognize that one may sometimes be wrong, is a mark not of stupidity but of intelligence.” Realize that what is true today could be upended tomorrow, especially as technology rapidly accelerates and markets develop and advance.  A flexible approach then is warranted.

Second, keep in mind that the single source of enterprise truth is worth the journey. An enterprise data lake with consistent, governed and secured data should be a source for multiple downstream facilities. These data management efforts will help prevent the “I have my facts”, “you have yours” syndrome that’s way too prevalent in today’s business environments.

Third, for top level leaders, it’s important to build a culture where it’s OK to challenge ideas, ask questions and take risks. P&G’s new CEO David Taylor has it right where he says; “I learned that part of the role as leader is to create space for everything including disagreements, conversation, dissension and agreements, and come to really appreciate messy meetings where (we can) disagree respectfully.” When people know that their job isn’t on the line for sharing their opinion, new and better ideas have a place to develop.

Finally, even though it’s contrary to Bayesian methods, go back to well-traveled paths—or areas declared dead by the pundits—and look for undiscovered value. Areas where “everyone knows” the market has moved on. This way, while everyone else is focused on the “next big thing”, you might just find a secret goldmine that can power your profits for another three to five years.