(First published in the WAO/FACTOR Newsletter, April 2012)
Critical thinking, the kind that looks at the obvious while still questioning it, certainly constitutes one of the most important attributes an analyst should possess and hone. As much as curiosity stands at the pole position of analytical qualities, consistently forcing the mind to ask “Why?”, critical thinking helps us think “Wait!”, and ask ourselves whether what we see is true or not.
Critical thinking is then no stranger to doubt. It prevents us from rushing to judgement, especially when numbers seem to be so well aligned with our initial hypotheses. Humans have a natural tendency to seek confirmation rather than contradiction. Confirmation is frictionless, seamlessly bringing us where we want to go, whereas contradiction hurts, blocks, irritates, making us walk on burning embers. The mind feels very uncomfortable sitting in the contradiction chair, and tends to run away from it.
So, when an idea is reinforced by the opinion of others, we tend to want to agree for a variety of reasons beyond the simple, brute clarity of that idea. Resisting it becomes resisting others, which doubles the pain of saying “Wait!” This gets even more powerful with today’s communication technologies (yes, Social Media) with which opinions circulate literally at the speed of light. Add to this the Web strong communitarianism, political correctness, and you get an amazingly powerful echo chamber where supposed truths circulate without being questioned. And this certainly can exist, and does in fact, within a company eco-system!
Here are some ideas we see everywhere:
- We must be on Social Media (as I said before, meaning Facebook and Twitter)
- Google Adwords work
- Multi-channel customers are the most profitable
- Online Marketing is all about increasing conversion rates
- It is essential to blog regularly
- Customers want to engage with brands (i.e. our own)
I could offer a much longer list. I have seen evidence supporting each one of these statements, and evidence proving their exact opposite. After a decade in Digital Analytics, my first answer now to any question about customer behaviors is “I don’t know; let’s verify.” And my answer to the above statements is certainly again “I don’t know; let’s verify for ourselves”.
It is the analyst’s fundamental job not to trust anything.
A good way to start is to assume failure. Due to what seems to be some sort of Marketing Enthropy, success is the unatural, rare state of the invested dollar. In fact, if business was easy, everybody would be consistently successful. Thus, analytics work against the force toward zero returns. With that in mind, how can there be so many success recipes a company could just apply without questioning?
Applying the critical mind often makes one unpopular. Of course, everyone wants to make the team, and not be left on the side of the playing field.
But how fun is it really when one knows the game is rigged?