Hard facts in hard times

I recently wrote an article that featured the book Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense, by two Stanford business professors, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton. This is a book about management, which argues that business decisions should be based on evidence, and goes on to lay out some of the principles and practices that enable this process. Some of you might have read just far enough to determine that the article wasn’t about business intelligence in a direct sense and ended your perusal at that point. “What does a book about management have to do with business intelligence?,” you might have asked before moving on to other activities more directly tied to your work. Actually, many intimate connections exist between the way our businesses are managed and the role of business intelligence. Evidence-based management looks fondly upon business intelligence as essential.

We err when we divide our work and our lives in general into discrete departments with little overlap. I’ve found that many of my greatest insights were discovered at the crossroads between domains of knowledge. I believe that it is not only enlightening to recognize interconnections between the many aspects of our lives and domains of our knowledge, it is also healthy to take this approach. Too many errors–some downright atrocities–occur when we fail to appreciate life as a complex and marvelous system of interconnections.

My interest and commitment to business intelligence is closely aligned with other aspects of my life. I believe that reason is the best arbiter of most decisions, despite occasional failures to embrace it. I believe that, if you want to understand the world, you should use the full resources of your intelligence and that of others to consider the evidence. Decisions and positions that ignore the evidence, especially those that are rooted in a brand of thinking that admits no contradiction (for instance, faith), are the cause of mistakes and the source of misery.

It is all interconnected. To apply the light of reason to your work but disregard it in other aspects of your life is a disconnect that I find disturbing. People who entrust their lives to the progress of medical research but passionately attack the evidence of evolutionary biology because it conflicts with a collection of ancient religious writings is a failure of reason. The rhetoric of a political liberal defending the inalienable rights of another culture to mistreat its people in the spirit of cultural relativism is equally inconsistent and irrational.

Failures to live rationally, upon an ethical foundation that need not resort to leaps of faith to justify the kind treatment of others, are certainly not unique to our day. In most respects, reason exercises more influence today than at any point in our history, but not enough in a time when we are destroying our environment at an increasing rate and have the means to destroy all life in an instant were unreasonable people to possess those means.

The passion that we bring to business intelligence should be part of a larger passion that we bring to life. It is all interconnected. We have such marvelous brains. In our day especially, a brain is indeed a dangerous thing to waste.

Take care,


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