• Rich Honiball

Digging into Data without Preconceived Bias


Early Morning Reflections...

Around a year ago, I started waking up early. I’ve typically been an early riser, I enjoy the time before the house wakes up, but this was before the crack of dawn early and for no apparent reason. After a few weeks of trying to ignore it, I began to embrace it. I used the extra time to walk/run (really, walk fast), yoga stretching, catch up on emails, reflect, prepare for the day, and write. Then my daughter started her freshman year of high school. Oof... Ok, if you’ve read one of my posts before, you’ve been through that journey and the disruptive shifts that have continually altered my routine. We will skip to the point where I am here a year later, now back to waking up unusually early. Again, with no rhyme or reason. But like last year at this time, let’s make the best of it!

Being up before 5AM doesn’t mean I fall asleep any earlier (I may have neglected that part of the story). It takes me a while to unwind, but lately rather than aimlessly surf through social media or dive into Netflix, I have been listening to audio books, currently “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. His book covers years of research and experience on the dichotomy between decision making with emotion and instinct versus thinking more deliberately and logically. It focuses attention on cognitive bias and the fact that we sometimes will replace more difficult situations and challenges with ones that are easier to answer so we can do so with limited information and personal judgements. It is a fascinating read if you have the opportunity. When I do default to Netflix or Amazon Prime, I have tried to migrate towards documentaries. Last night I started a series on the Civil War, the first episode focusing on the Kansas – Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott case, and the fight between those trying to hold onto the institution of slavery and those who wanted to abolish the institution as many countries already had. Interestingly, Mexico abolished slavery in the 1820’s and many felt that the Texas War for Independence (remember the Alamo?) had as much to do with protecting slavery as it did with gaining independence, eventually becoming part of the United States who had yet to abolish it. Before you think this is a political post, stop. I assure you, it is not. Rather, being a person who has always had a fascination with history, took AP American History in high school and started college by majoring in History and Political Science, I am investing the time to go back and see what I may have missed. What wasn’t included in the lessons, or the textbooks, or what candidly I failed to learn on my own. History cannot be re-written, nor do I believe it should be, but perhaps our interpretations are flawed. Perhaps we should dig deeper into "the data" before making decisions or assumptions that are “easy” to digest.

Hence the point of my post because the same holds true in business. Too often we look at a situation with superficial information and our own biases and make decisions that aren’t as well formed or informed as they should be. Mind you, in the days of big data and artificial intelligence, I think many now suffer from “analysis paralysis” and struggle with making decisions unless the data tells them what to do. I think critical thinking is an undervalued skill set and often times I will trust a decision based on instinct and intuition rather than one based solely on data. But we need to find a balance, and more importantly – and the point of my reflection – we have to develop the ability to look at the data without the filter of seeing what we want or expect to see.


I attended a lecture a few years ago by a psychologist (her name escapes me and I will try to remember who she was) specializing in the study of biases and decision making. She made the point that in her research, she found that often times the smarter a person was, the more likely the person was to unconsciously set aside data that didn’t correlate with their theory. If I am being honest with myself, not only have I witnessed that, I am guilty of it myself.

This is a challenge, because often times the data is incomplete, or may have even been collected in a manner that does not exclude bias. Research, news, even yes, even hard data the way it is collected, drawn together, and correlated can be unconsciously (or at times consciously) tainted by biases. We cannot paralyze ourselves by inaction while we wait for clarity, and sometimes swift action is required. However as long as start by challenging our own biases, we immediately remove a filter that can result in better decision making. It is something worth exploring.

As for the photo above? One of the benefits of being an early riser is seeing the beauty of a sunrise. And no, I didn’t apply any filters… Have an outstanding day! (The views I post are my own and subject to change as I learn and listen more. You can follow me @rhoniball on Twitter and LinkedIn or connect with me at www.honiball.me. Thank you!)

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