No One Knows Anything, Without This
Any opinion without this is just fluff.
“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
— Sherlock Holmes, A Scandal in Bohemia
I was a new attorney at a big law firm.
A few years ago, I was sitting in a meeting talking about how to market some of our services.
I suggested that we start doing videos and putting them online for free.
The other people were generally open to the idea, but we could not agree on the specifics.
- How long should the videos be?
- What should the videos be about?
- Who should be in the videos?
- How many should we make?
It seemed like no one could agree on the details. Everyone had a different idea.
I was brand new. I did not want to jump in with my own ideas since I did not have much credibility — as an attorney.
Yet, I definitely had something to say. In that meeting, I was the least experienced attorney.
But I was the only one at the meeting who had ever done sales and marketing for a living. Prior to going to law school, I managed a media department, which included a large amount of marketing. Plus, I did freelance corporate videos. At the time, videos that I created for clients had millions of views online.
No one in the room else had made even one online marketing video.
But everyone else had an opinion on all of the details.
- One of the more experienced attorneys stated that she personally would not watch any video longer than two minutes, so obviously we should keep our videos short.
- I spoke up and said that a video could be longer, as long as it was good.
- Immediately, a few people shot down the principle I proposed.
Why is that? Why do people dismiss ideas like that?
Here is what I was thinking: I just binge watched 20 hours of Netflix in the last few weeks. If the content is good, people will consume longer content. Short videos may work, but certainly they are not the only thing that works.
As I listened, I remember thinking one thing: many people have opinions. But few people have a strong basis for those opinions.
No One Knows Anything Without Good Data
“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
— Aldous Huxley
My problem after the above meeting was that some people were spouting off ideas without having any data to support those ideas.
Most people do this all the time. They express an opinion without having actual data to back it up.
Does anyone else find that figuring out what is true is one of the biggest challenges we face?
Here’s what I believe:
No one knows anything without good data.
That is one of my litmus tests for discerning what to believe.
Data vs. Good Data
“Nothing hurts a new truth more than an old error.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Having data is not enough.
Many people hear an opinion with some support and then they automatically believe it.
However, the data must be good.
Good data does not necessarily need to be scientific. Experience is sometimes just as useful.
The Fine Art of Baloney Detection
One of my favorite examples of requiring “good data” is from Carl Sagan’s book, The Demon-Haunted World.
This story illustrates why even data that sounds good might not be good at all.
In the chapter The Fine Art of Baloney Detection, Sagan recounts a story about the Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi.
Fermi had just arrived in America, enlisted in the Manhattan Nuclear Weapons Project, and was brought face-to-face in the midst of World War II with U.S. flag officers:
So-and-so is a great general, Fermi was told.
“What is the definition of a great general?” Fermi characteristically asked.
I guess it’s a general who’s won many consecutive battles.
After some back-and-forth, they settled on five.
“What fraction of American generals are great?”
After some more back-and-forth, they settled on a few percent.
“But imagine,” Fermi rejoined, “that there is no such thing as a great general, that all armies are equally matched, and that winning a battle is purely a matter of chance. Then the chance of winning one battle is one out of two, or 1/2; two battles 1/4, three 1/8, four 1/16, and five consecutive battles 1/32 — which is about 3 percent. You would expect a few percent of American generals to win five consecutive battles — purely by chance. Now, has any of them won ten consecutive battles . . . ?”
Fermi’s questions reveal the danger of data and statistics. In the above example, with around 100 generals, around 3% of the generals would have won five battles just strictly by chance — regardless of the skill level of the generals!
Don’t be fooled by any data. Search for good data.
Sincerity Is Not Enough
“Sincerity is not a test of truth. It is possible to be sincerely wrong.”
— Jim Rohn
Most people have sincerely-held beliefs. But sincerity is not a test of truth. You can be sincerely wrong.
Data, or content, that supports our ideas is important.
When looking for the truth, we need to listen to the content and not necessarily the package that the content is in.
But why does this even matter?
The Foundation of All Change Is the Truth
“All progress starts with telling the truth.”
— Dan Sullivan
I completely agree with Dan Sullivan’s statement: all progress starts with telling the truth.
Most people have a hard time telling the truth because they have a hard time knowing the truth.
I have the same difficulty.
If the foundation for all change is the truth, how do we know it when we hear it?
The answer is: Good data.
If we want to change, grow, transform, and reinvent ourselves, then we must find and know the truth about how to actually change.
Reinventing ourselves requires us to be able to figure out the truth.
My advice: do not fall into the two traps in this article.
- Lack of Data. The trap of listening to people who have ideas but no good data to back up those ideas.
- Sincerity Trap. The trap of using sincerity as a test for truth.
As a writer, I feel a responsibility to only share the truth. And how do I do that?
I only write about what has personally worked for me. I do not write about ideas that have not worked, or “theories” I have or have read about.
I test out the ideas first in my own life, and then share what has worked.
You can certainly disagree with my writing. But what you cannot say is that the concepts did not work for me. Because I only write about what has worked for me.
And most importantly, it has not only worked for me. I have shared these ideas with others — and the ideas have worked for them.
And that is why I am sharing them.
Remember: no one knows anything without good data.
Call To Action
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