I love data. It’s a big part of the reason I joined CircleUp, and I’ve seen the positive effect that better data/numbers/stats can have on decision-making for companies. It can provide a perspective, encourage debate, and ultimately lead to a better outcome.
However, last night, when reading Michael Pollack’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I came across a quote that reminded me of the importance of having a healthy skepticism of data.
The problem is that once science has reduced a complex phenomenon to a couple of variables, however important they may be, the natural tendency is to overlook everything else, to assume that what you can measure is all there is, or all that really matters. When we mistake what we can know for all there is to know, a healthy appreciation of one’s ignorance in the face of a mystery…” can disappear.
Pollack is talking about the science of soil fertility, but it reminded me that when it comes to quantifying and simplifying, there’s almost always something that we lose. You can’t measure grit, soul, energy, culture (not yet, anyway). But, these factors are incredibly important in understanding a brand or an entrepreneur. I have a set of guidelines that I use to evaluate investments, but sometimes, the breakout stars defy the norms or the mean/median.
In an age where data is king, it is important to keep in mind that there is a lot of information investors and entrepreneurs can’t yet capture. A healthy skepticism of the stats we evaluate is especially important, knowing that data can itself be biased.
This is not an argument against using data; on the contrary, I think that we should constantly be evaluating data sources, improving what we measure, and keeping track how we make decisions.
You can’t measure everything, but acknowledging this makes us better consumers of data.