Minding Your Business in a Post-Truth World

It was recently announced Oxford Dictionaries had selected “post-truth” as 2016’s international word of the year.

Now, before we go any further, let’s make sure we all know exactly what this highly-trending phrase means.  Oxford defines “post-truth” as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

Huh.

So, right now, I believe I can hear many of you saying, “Cute phrase…but what does it have to do with me, or my organization?”

Well, although the “post-truth” era has most often been cited in relation to the current and rather insane political landscape, it has created negative ramifications for organizations and individuals within the business world as well.

Go With Your Gut???  

Today, many business leader across all industry categories approach critical, make-or-break decisions with an over-reliance on “instinct” or “market feel”.  

While this type of decision-making can feel, um, super decisive – it can, and often does, lead to unsatisfactory and even downright disastrous results for said businesses.

Just ask Ron Johnson, the former CEO of JC Penney.  He was notoriously dismissive of “hard data” and instead relied on “go with your gut” moves from which JC Penney may never totally recover.  

Among other faulty assumptions, Johnson believed consumers had grown tired of all those incessant coupon and discount “games” retailers played.  He FELT that so-called “fair and square pricing” was clearly the way forward with JC Penney shoppers.

Well…it turns out this smart and formerly highly successful CEO could not have been more wrong with this FEELING. His customer base didn’t just dislike this “no more coupons” change – they loathed it! Already on the decline, JC Penney’s sales immediately plummeted further, and Johnson was gone in less than two years.    

In short, Johnson thought he knew what his JC Penney customers wanted. He essentially trusted his “instincts”.

Bad idea, Ron!  

Now, even though you may not currently be heading up a multi-million dollar, national retail organization (and hey, if you are – nice work!), executives at businesses of all sizes and functions simply will not consistently succeed in 2016 and beyond by basing their critical decisions on “post-truth” values such as emotion and personal belief.  Sorry folks – it’s just not going to happen!

OK, then.  What’s the alternative?

The Scientific Method (or…Who Said Everything You Learned in High School Was Useless?)

If it’s been awhile since you’ve read or discussed anything relating to the scientific method (and I’m guess it has)  – relax.  There will be no pop quiz at the end of this post, I promise (cue the collective “sigh of relief” sound effect…).

Briefly, the scientific method can be summed up in the following way:

  1. You begin with a hypothesis (a.k.a. a hunch or an opinion)
  2. You proceed to test this hypothesis by setting up a “control” group and an “experimental” group
  3. Once you establish these groups, you then test your hypothesis on the experimental group
  4. You then gather the statistically significant data from the experimental group and compare it to corresponding data from your control group
  5. If the results of the data from the experimental group indicate a more favorable position for your business, you implement the change(s).  If not, you keep the status quo.

That’s essentially it.

The more you can base your critical business decisions on this type of methodical, measurable and results-based process, the better the odds will be that your business will consistently succeed. In the business world at least, facts beat feelings every time.

Oh, and you will probably sleep easier at night not sweating out all of your “hunches”.

For Example…

Google is a scrappy, little company you may have heard of that has done quite well for itself this century.

Among many undisputed reasons for its continued market dominance is the fact that Google makes very few, if any, assumptions about what their customers (i.e., “the world”) wants.  It seems nobody at Google “goes with their gut” when it comes to improving the value of any aspect of their brand.

For example, Google regularly runs tests on its uber popular search engine, making small and, occasionally, large alterations from time to time.  Google then measures consumer reaction to these alterations and makes strategic decisions to change, or not change, various U.I. aspects of its search engine to provide optimal market results.   

So, no, Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, never wakes up and declares, “I just have a really strong feeling I know what Google users want us to change today…”

Again, you may not be one of the relative few fortunate enough to work for the mighty Google. But no matter where you work – one person start-up all the way up to a huge, multinational corporation – utilizing the scientific method (when possible) to assist you in making any important business decision will nearly always represent a sound choice.

One More Thing: Listen up!

“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.”

Some wise guy named Albert Einstein once said that…

And sure – you or I may not exactly be an “Einstein” – but Albert’s words above resonate more than ever in these sometimes wild and wacky “post-truth” times.

You see, that amazing scientific method mentioned earlier won’t help you improve your bottom line one little bit…IF the “hypothesis” you’re testing is based on faulty or misunderstood information.

Here’s the deal: If you don’t properly listen to what your customers, market researchers or co-workers are saying about an alleged “problem”, or if you actually do listen to them but don’t properly analyze and verify that what they’re telling you is THE ACTUAL PROBLEM, then all the scientific and fact-based testing in the world will unfortunately still lead you right into that proverbial ditch. THUD.  

So, please remember…

To solve any problem in your business, make sure you first know what it actually is!

Easy to say, but even easier to forget for many of us.

Further reading

Here are a few other good sources for you to explore this topic further.

Learn all you can, and customize the process to fit your specific business needs.

Good luck!

 

MIT Technology Review

Scientific Thinking in Business

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/523661/scientific-thinking-in-business/

 

Entrepreneur Magazine

The Scientific Method for Entrepreneurs: 6 Steps to Long-Term Success 

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/236537

 

Workforce Institute

The Scientific Method Isn’t Just For Scientists 

http://www.workforceinstitute.org/blog/scientific-method-isnt-just-scientists/

 

Minding Your Business in a Post-Truth World

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