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Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense

January 20th, 2008 · No Comments

I’ve just finished Robert Sutton and Jeffrey Pfeffer‘s Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense. A problem I have with a lot of business books is that they are generally so larded with the message it is okay to be you! that much of the rest is lost. As I’m a data analyst, I was clearly always going to find a book on ‘evidence based management’ more or less on the topic of it being okay to be me.

In a sense, this was true; there was a lot of reassuring statements about how data knows no status and (furthermore) brings in the results. However, there was still a lot that was far from being a cause for self-satisfaction. It’s easy to follow the logic behind why an idea might make sense and, once that idea looks exciting, harder to think about how it might be wrong and how to test if it works.

From Why Every Company Needs Evidence-Based Management:

We once worked with a large computer company that was having trouble selling its computers at retail stores. Senior executives kept blaming their marketing and sales people for doing a lousy job, and dismissed their complaints that it was hard to get customers to buy a lousy product, until one weekend when members of the senior team went out to stores and tried to buy their computers. Every executive encountered salespeople who tried to dissuade them from buying the firm’s computers, citing the excessive price, weak feature set, clunky appearance, and poor feature set.

From How To Practice Evidence-Based Management:

consider a big problem that plagues managers who try to learn from experience as well as many business writers who draw lessons from currently successful companies. What both the managers and the writers don’t seem to realise is that crucial evidence is lost if they ignore the practices and strategies used by failed companies.

We found little if any evidence that courtesy increased [7-11] store sales. Yes, it was possible to increase courtesy. […] But the main finding… was that clerks in stores with more sales were actually less courteous. Apparently, the crowding and long lines in busy stores made clerks and customers grouchy. […] good service meant getting out of the store fast, not fake smiles and insincere social amenities.

From Is Work Fundamentally Different From Life And Should It Be?

just as it is difficult to have total quality management practices and high quality in one part of a factory and not another, it is difficult to encourage some close and effective relationships, for instance with customers, while simultaneously discouraging, denying, or ignoring other relationships.

From Do The Best Organisations Have The Best People?

An insidious consequence of… [fundamental attribution error] is something we have come to call the brain vacuum syndrome… where an organisation hires one apparently brilliant person after another, and them places them in the same badly designed jobs in the same badly designed system.

From Do Financial Incentives Matter To Company Performance?

A survey by Kaplan Educational Centers of almost 500 prospective lawyers preparing to take the Law School Admissions Test revealed that 64 percent of the respondents said they were pursuing a legal career because it was intellectually appealing or because they were interested in the law, but only 12 percent thought their peers were similarly motivated. Instead, 62 percent thought that others were pursuing a legal career for the financial rewards.

The above is especially interesting given something that annoys me in critique of creative or design work; the statement “but that’s not how I’d do that”. Whilst sometimes it can be valid, it’s also useful to remember that there are other use cases than ourselves. If people tend to design for an idea of “themselves”, do they tend to manage for an idea of “other people”?

From Change Or Die?

the fact is that to maintain a favourable reputation while protecting core business from excessive and well-meaning but flawed intrusion, every effective company makes symbolic changes in its structures, training, management practices and language that change more of how it looks than what it does.

This is the first mention of an idea that seems passive agressive (if pleasing to have rubber stamped thus) – if the data suggests an idea is not going to work, don’t bother implementing it.

From Are Great Leaders In Control Of Their Companies?

Study after study shows that companies headed by CEOs who credit favourable financial performance to what they and their people did will perform better down the road than companies that are equally successful by the same financial measures but do not make such claims.

From Profiting From Evidence-Based Management

We are struck by how many companies spend months or even years doing internal research, pilot programs, and experiments to decide whether to adopt some program or practice without first stopping to see if pertinent evidence already exists elsewhere. Ignoring data that isn’t developed locally is just another manifestation of the not-invented-here syndromes.

if you want to take a first step towards practicing evidence-based management… find out: What happens to people who fail in your oroganisation? Do you ever admit your own mistakes? Does your organisation forgive and remember when people make mistakes, and does it use that information to keep making things better?

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