Robert Ardrey provides a brief mention of Sir Solly Zuckerman who, at the time of Ardrey’s African Genesis, was the head of anatomy at Birmingham University. The Social Life of Monkeys and Apes was his great work. The book was at the time a masterpiece of observational research on the social interactions of primates. One problem. All the observations were made in the London Zoo. Where all interactions are, by definition, contrived.
Is this any different from sales forecasting data compiled by sophisticated quantitative techniques, all based on a sales guy’s back-of-the-napkin guestimate at the airport?
How about the packaging that gets approved and launched because 62% of respondants ranked it first out of four choices; but the 62% corresponded to five people in a focus group, where quantitative data can’t be extrapolated.
Highly stylized, quantitatively robust statistical analysis produced by earnest, morally superior people with MBA’s is only as good as the stuff that goes in the front end. The forecast. The market sizing. The volume ramp. The easy stuff is all the data crunching. It’s mechanical. The hard stuff is coming up with the robust, defendable insights that drive the inputs to the Rube Goldberg factory planning ERP software that IT installed at more money than a regional TV ad campaign would have cost. Coming up with the inputs requires judgment. Sometimes it even requires making decisions. Hard stuff. So much easier to do that Generalized Bass Diffusion Model.
* * *
> It’s seductive to rely on highly sophisticated data manipulation. Pay more attention to the inputs than the gyrations you put them through. Otherwise, you end up with sophisticated analysis on purely subjective fluff.
> Standing up and defending your data crunching is easy. We can all do four funtion math. Standing up and defending how you came up with something that no one has done before — and that no data currently exists to support — is a bit harder. Case studies, similar products from you and elsewhere, analogies, and sometimes a lot of opinions from smart people with stakes in the outcome are where you go for inspiration. But you’ll be standing alone when you present. Some people like this and others don’t.
* * *
Pay attention to the hard stuff. It’s usually the squishiest data you work with.
Copyright (c) 2007 Stephen Denny