Predictions Are As Accurate As You
“You’re gonna take a walk in the rain
And you’re gonna get wet (I predict)
You’re gonna eat a bowl of Chow Mein
And be hungry real soon (I predict)
Are my sources correct (I predict)” ~ Ronald D. Mael and Russell Craig Mael
One of the wonders about life is it’s unpredictable. It’s always surprising you. Like Forrest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. ” Yet, acknowledging its unpredictability doesn’t stop us from trying to make sense of it all and make it appear more predictable than it is.
We categorize, classify and organize to understand and simplify things. Then, from classifying, we make conclusions. Putting people and things into categories is a useful shortcut and timesaver, yet, at what cost? Categorizing is not all inclusive and because of that it opens up biases (source: R4DN – Why Do We Categorize).
In the song above, if you take a walk in the rain and have an umbrella and water-proof shoes, you don’t have to get wet. Should you eat a bowl of Chow Mein, (provided you can find a restaurant that serves it) and have a moderate appetite or keep busy afterward, you may not realize you’re hungry for a long while later. These described situations by the lyricist are in no way universal, predictable, or a foregone conclusion; they are simply options that the songwriter assumed. In reality people’s behavior and decisions fluctuate depending on circumstances, experience and emotions at a specific place and time.
Take a moment to consider your own behavior, aptitude and attitude during the course of a day. Ponder how they fluctuate or are unpredictable dependent upon conversations, disappointments, or victories which have occurred. Can you see, as a result of these events, how they altered your decisions in the moment?
Recently, one of my trade organizations sent a survey to its members. The analytics expert, after gathering the findings from the survey, predicted/concluded the organization was doing very well. The programs the association offered received high marks. People answered the multiple-choice question with “yes”, they enjoyed being a member. So, how could you possibly disagree with the findings/conclusions? I raise my hand here. Excuse me!
First, the same people who kept attending programs were the only ones who answered the poll so feedback was skewed (90% of the organization did not complete the poll); it had also been shown by attendance numbers that less than 25% of members were attending programs. This would have been enough to question the data or its conclusions. If we based our continuing operations on this survey, we’d be in trouble because we were missing a good portion of information, which I also understood running committee meetings where members were voicing their disappointment and making suggestions about improvements.
Each person is special and unique, therefore basing their behavior on someone else may or may not be accurate, or accurate enough. Examining job offers, I’ve learned with a background of decades of years in executive search, you can’t predict individual behavior. For instance, you can never be sure if someone may decide after a “not interested” that they actually are interested; if someone is going to accept an offer even if you include in the compensation package everything they wanted; you can’t 100% predict a new hire will show up for their first day; you can’t predict whether someone will succeed in a new position; nor, can you predict who the decision maker is going to decide to hire.
Decisions often include data, however data itself is not reliable without more personalized information. Making decisions depends on many factors with a heavy influence of a person’s circumstances at that moment: a person’s emotions, intuition and experience.
There are a lot of analytical tools available that collect information about people and organize and arrange the data into ways to make sense of that information based on how other people have responded in the past. Are they worthwhile?
They do offer some feedback, and yet as the trade association survey helped explain this information combining it with individual personal feedback (which, granted, is not always possible) improves the quality of information gathered. Think of the questions around the SAT, ACT, entrance exams into elementary schools, etc. which are being questioned these days for biases while earlier they were acceptable and easy ways of categorizing.
Everything we do is human because we are human; we are imperfect. Expecting life and things to be standard, reliable, and accurate may be desirable at times, yet we can acknowledge along with Forrest Gump, it’s not always possible, realistic or fair.
Data mining and mass customization are being used more and more in business in an effort to be competitive, relevant and to try to make sense of the unknowable. And as Duro Olowu, an international designer known for his patterns, verifies “No handmade pattern is perfect, and even computer-generated patterns have glitches. Those glitches show the humanity in the algorithm.”
Basing decisions for your team on data collected mainly through surveys, polls, and tests? Feeling that your team is grumbling, unhappy or disappointed with the current situation? We can work together to gather the nuanced information and inspiration needed so that you and your team can become more productive, satisfied, and recognized for their work.
My work as a leadership and communication expert has me go into organizations, as an outside unbiased view to look at the information gaps. I identify what an organization is missing that’s holding it back from thriving and continuing to stay relevant. Have practices become entrenched or no longer fit your plans for today’s workplace and goals? Contact me: Susan@SusanGoldbergLeadership.com Let’s talk.