Why Objective Data’s Importance Is on the Rise

Colin McMahon
Apr 23, 2020

Data is everywhere in the 21st century. Some have even compared it to oil, given that an organization can use it to obtain great wealth. That said, oil is a rare substance. It must be discovered, mined, and refined before it is usable. And while data is similar, the sheer amount of it leaves the oil analogy far behind. Moreover, both refined and unrefined data can look virtually identical to the untrained eye.

With that in mind, the more apt comparison is “data is like water.” It’s everywhere, and essential to life. Still, companies can easily drown in it if they are not careful, otherwise they get sick drinking contaminated quantities.

The Flawed Nature of the “Gut Feeling”

Many market research companies, Keypoint Intelligence included, hire industry experts to help create and refine content. This is a logical move as we tend to have more hands-on experience than the layperson—not to mention a greater familiarly with the challenges impacting our industry. Even industry experts know when to solely trust their gut (almost never) and when to lean on the gathered data. At first read, this may make them sound overly cautious. After all, if we know so many people and have been in the industry for so long, how could we not know what to do on instinct?

There have been numerous studies into the effectiveness of intuition-based decision making. An article published back in 2003 by Harvard Business Review makes the case that intuition is often wrong, whereas more recent opinions have been published that argue the opposite.

So, who’s right? Well, the answer is both. Instinct can mean many things, and people often stretch the word to suit their preconceived notions. For instance, let’s say I am aware of an upcoming anti-COVID-19 medication that is showing great promise in early treatments. I then speak at an event where I say that I believe the impact of the coronavirus will not be as long-lasting as others predict. Low and behold, a month later the drug is released, the economy re-opens, and I look like a prophet, with many saying my instincts were right on the money. But was it truly an intuition-based prediction or was I just relying on information that had been gathered by others?

Understanding the Relationship between Intuitive Thinking and Analytical Thinking

Much of the debate around instinct versus data comes from misunderstandings. Many believe that all emotion is unwieldy and illogical, driven solely by chemical reactions in the brain, but this is not the case. The human brain is, at its fundamental level, a type of processor—like a computer, it is always digesting information in the hopes of finding an optimum solution. If you’re hungry, go to the kitchen and grab some food. If you’re tired, go to bed. If you’re bored, go online, read a book, or find some other form of entertainment. Problem identified—problem solved. You don’t get much more analytical than that.

In fact, recent research suggests that our analytical and our intuitive thought processes are more connected than originally thought. We don’t switch off our intuitive emotions to suddenly become analytical, the two are most often working together. The downside is that even our analytical brain is not truly objective or bias-free. Biases, or understood preconceptions, shape much of our world view and can inform practically all our decisions. Some of these biases are fine while others can be harmful (more on that in the next section).

To give an example, let’s say that I don’t want to go out at night. Part of this fear may come from the knowledge that certain areas of the country are less safe at night. This is my analytical brain trying to be helpful. Information says “Night is dangerous so avoid night.” However, the dangers of night may only be measurable in certain areas, none of which are near where I live. If I don’t know that part of the information, then my bias is flawed.

 

Analytical Thinking vs Intuitive Thinking

Each style of thinking has its advantages and disadvantages. The reality is that we often use them together without even realizing it. By being more conscious of the thought process, it is possible to take advantage of both.

Image Source: R&D Today

Sure, I may be safer going out less. I likely am, but it’s not for the reason I think. Everyone has biases. Sometimes they are aware of them, sometimes not. Biases can transform even the most objective data into purely intuitive (or emotion-based) decisions, showing once again that the two are not mutually exclusive—and why studies into this field often produce different results.

How Rising Partisanship Fuels the Need for Objectivity

In decades past, politics stayed in a smaller box. Want to get political? Okay let’s talk about the size and the responsibilities of the federal government related to state and local governments. Today, however, this is sadly no longer the case. Climate change, vaccinations, and even COVID-19 are now all falling into the political theatre. Even when talking to our clients about COVID-19, Keypoint Intelligence received some very politically charged responses to what was an economic survey. Politics affects our minds, affects our understanding of reality, and it impacts our biases. To paraphrase American social psychologist Dr. Jonathan Haidt, our political biases can cause us to approach information two different ways:

1) “Can I believe this?” This is the subconscious question the mind asks when reading something it wants to believe, something that already aligns with its biases. It is very easy to say “Can I do this? Yes, yes I can.” People often agree to information that reinforces their perceived worldview with little to no external research or analytical thinking.

2) “Must I believe this?” This is the subconscious question the mind asks when reading something that challenges its worldview or biases. In this case, full analytical mode activates—but with a caveat. The person is only really looking for some information, any information, to disprove what they have read so that they do not need to adjust their bias or make personal change.

These issues affect everyone across the political spectrum and are intruding further into everyday decision-making. With the world becoming more political about non-political matters, the importance of objective research only rises.

Why Market Research Firms are Less Likely to Be Influenced by Bias

Keypoint Intelligence is neither Republican nor Democrat. We employ individuals across the spectrum, since we care a lot more about industry knowledge than political affiliation. Our experts (myself included) have their biases, conscious and subconscious. It is possible—even here—for two experts to look at the same data and draw different conclusions?

That said, our forecasts and our primary research remain the great equalizer. We are intuitive and analytical beings grounded in surveys created to have as little bias as possible. Our forecasts are routinely checked and double-checked to weed out flaws and inconsistencies, and every one of our experts understands the value of an external opinion. We practice design thinking, or the process found in between the analytical and emotional extremes. When using design thinking, analysts work with the more analytical, cognitive functions of their minds while remaining grounded to effectively solving problems on time in the real world.

Exploring Design Thinking

Image Source: Enterprise Architects

We are not unique in this regard. Market research companies across industry verticals make it their business to be an objective source of information. That means using our expert opinions in tandem with the data we’ve collected—and we’re consistently on the lookout for new avenues of reliable information to expand our database.

Data is everywhere. It is like the water we drink. So, ask yourself: Do you want to consume just any information, knowing that your livelihood may depend on it? No, you want to go to a trusted source that is reliable and cares only about getting you the real information, not just telling you what you want to hear and confirming a pre-existing bias.

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