My colleague Ben Gilad posted a terrific essay on the shortcomings of “data-driven” decision-making.

I love data. I spent 15 years playing with the PIMS database alongside luminaries such as Michael Porter, Sidney Schoeffler, Robert Buzzell, and more. Many years later, I can run a few hundred million simulations before breakfast and tell you what they mean before the coffee’s temperature drops to 80 degrees F. I told you, I love data.

But data isn’t learning, and learning isn’t just about the amount of data. Is one data point enough for learning? How about a trillion?

When smart people fail, their failures are often (not always) because what they think they know is wrong. There’s often a deeper failure, a failure of knowledge, learning, and framing, rather than a failure of execution or data.

To see why, let’s look at rats.1

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In an essay on the “shyness” of Finland, Professor Ira Kalb of the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California makes a rather strong claim that brochures handed to him by his Finnish client were bad marketing because they did not focus on the benefits of doing business with Finnish companies. “Some good ‘things’ were in these brochures,” Prof. Kalb says, “but they were buried in the body text that most people (83.3% according to data) will not read.”

Behavioral economists have shown that specific claims, especially with precise numbers, are more convincing than general claims. So, I decided to bite. The word “data” in this quotation, following the suspiciously precise 83.3%, was a link. I took a deep breath and clicked.

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