“Maybe stories are just data with a soul.”
– Brené Brown
The other day I was listening to an interesting conversation about immigration and immigration reform.
Pretty soon the discussion devolved into propaganda, hearsay, and general misinformation. From both parties should be added.
It felt like the key question that was missing in the conversation was “What are you basing those opinions on?”
Later on I read an article where a cab driver was speaking about the same subject. His opinions didn’t really differ much from what I’d heard from one party previously, but one major clue came when the reporter asked: “Why do you think that?”
He explained that in his work he met a lot of people and the customers he had talked with had expressed their opinion on the matter. That had lead him to hold certain beliefs.
Unintentionally he thought he was being handed sufficient and reliable data that he could base his opinions on.
Some factors he didn’t take into consideration was that perhaps not everyone felt comfortable or was as likely to express their opinions because he was male, caucasian, in his 50’s, and he didn’t exactly go around asking people about their opinions. Also, I highly doubt that he followed this up by watching how the people actaully behaved.
Perhaps certain people felt more comfortable or inferred that he would be likely to hold the same opinion as them. Thus leading to a lopsided view of the world around him.
He was subsequently presented with the facts, however I don’t know if he fully understood why he was mistaken or even wanted to change his mind.
My feeling is this, we all have some preconceived notions about how things are and how they ought to be.
If we look at the data as objectively as we can, it can tell us something about the actual state of things.
Once we’ve looked at it we also get to decide if we want to act on that knowledge and do something to change it. Or, if we can live with the fact and simply accept it as is.
Whatever we choose, we need to respect the data.
Now, data doesn’t just mean numbers. It also includes an understanding of those numbers.
You may have heard of qualitative data and quantitative data. Well, they overlap pretty well with open-ended and close-ended questions.
Close-ended questions often include words like: is, are, does, will, should, could, would, might, did, can, etc. Basically things that can be answered with binary yes/no answers. These questions give us quantitative data.
Open-ended questions on the other hand often include words like: what, how, why, and tell me about. These can give us more qualitative data. That is to say, the underlying reasons and emotions that drive the quantitative data.
However, going into this kind of “experiment” requires an open mind. If we go in looking for a specific outcome we make ourselves vulnerable to confirmation bias.
Also, if we leave our minds open to other possibilities we can see things we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
Once we start understanding the difference we can make better decisions. Not only about the data but the world at large.
When we harness the power of asking better questions, we get better answers.
Now, knowing this, will you act any differently?
Have a kick-ass ₢eative day!
“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.”
– Arthur Conan Doyle
“Errors using inadequate data are much less than those using no data at all.”
– Charles Babbage
“Data allow your political judgments to be based on fact, to the extent that numbers describe realities.”
– Hans Rosling
“You may have heard the world is made up of atoms and molecules, but it’s really made up of stories. When you sit with an individual that’s been here, you can give quantitative data a qualitative overlay.”
– W.E.S Turner
“Any time scientists disagree, it’s because we have insufficient data. Then we can agree on what kind of data to get; we get the data; and the data solves the problem. Either I’m right, or you’re right, or we’re both wrong. And we move on.”
– Neil deGrasse Tyson
“In the spirit of science, there really is no such thing as a ‘failed experiment.’ Any test that yields valid data is a valid test.”
– Adam Savage
“When it comes to exploring the mind in the framework of cognitive neuroscience, the maximal yield of data comes from integrating what a person experiences — the first person — with what the measurements show — the third person.”
– Daniel Goleman
“We should teach the students, as well as executives, how to conduct experiments, how to examine data, and how to use these tools to make better decisions.”
– Dan Ariely
“Go out and collect data and, instead of having the answer, just look at the data and see if the data tells you anything.”
– Steven Levitt