In the classic American Western film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which was adapted from a short story written by Dorothy Johnson, Liberty Valance (played by Lee Marvin) was an outlaw terrorizing the frontier town of Shinbone.
Ransom Stoddard (played by James Stewart) accepts Valance’s challenge to a gun duel, during which, despite his lack of gunslinging skills, Stoddard kills Valance with one shot. Years later, Stoddard reveals in an interview with a newspaper reporter that the man who really shot Liberty Valance was Tom Doniphon (played by John Wayne). Upon hearing the truth, the reporter burns his notes and utters perhaps the film’s most famous line:
“This is the West, sir.
When the legend becomes fact, print the legend!”
Sometimes, what appears to be a data-driven decision is actually an intuition-driven decision that used selective post-decision data analysis to construct a story to support the decision. The human mind is exceptionally good at doing this – the term for it in psychology is confabulation.
In The Data that Supported the Decision, my imaginary film adaptation of the data-driven decision making story, when an intuition is used instead of data, the decision maker utters the infamous line:
“This is the Business, sir.
When intuition makes the decision, confabulate the data!”
Alternatively, selective pre-decision data analysis can be used to confirm preconceptions or favored hypotheses, thus masking an intuition-driven decision as technically data-driven. The human mind is also exceptionally good at doing this – the term for it in psychology is confirmation bias.
The moral of this confabulation is that it’s essential to always confirm the basis, including the potential human biases, underlying your organization’s decision-making processes.
Do you know the true stories of the data that supported your business decisions?