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The risks of being a data-driven decision maker

Lately I notice that my ability to piss people off is on the rise. This well-honed irritating behavior targets all groups: Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals, environmentalists, capitalists, politicians, community groups, Christians, Jews and atheists have all been offended by my work. Yet, on closer look, I see that it is the collective social response that has changed, not me. We, as a society, are more vested in our beliefs and less open to consider new information.

My problem is that I am a data-driven decision maker. This is the opposite of a values-driven decision maker; the pattern that is far more common in society. I am trained to question everything and don’t hold any value above questioning. This means that I am willing to question the validity of science, religion, the Constitution, and yes, even things like your sacred right to own a gun.

This behavior of mine comes from a background in science combined with the strong influence of intellectual Quaker and Jewish mentors.

The result is that I flip-flop on a position when the underlying data changes. I’m not wed to or vested in any specific outcome. This triggers complaints that I’m not committed to a cause. That’s true. I’m much more focused on asking “what do we know?” than on considering the consequences of that knowledge. Knowledge, truth, integrity, logic and reason are the guiding forces.

Generally, we might presume that dramatic change in underlying data doesn’t happen often but, in fact, the opposite is true. Most of the continuing education throughout my adult life is an ongoing lesson that whatever we were taught before was wrong. It’s been quite a shocking and humbling journey!

The list of topics where the underlying data has fundamentally changed in recent years is staggering. It includes: macro-economics, criminal justice, nutrition, conflict resolution, cognitive science, sports management, and personnel management, just to name a few.

I conclude that this is who I am: a data-driven decision maker. A guy without loyalty. Perhaps a guy with few enduring supporters. Such is the life of a data-driven decision maker.

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