There Are Members of the Flat Earth Society on Your Management Team

Do you want to join Amazon and Netflix, or would you rather align yourself with Borders Books and Blockbuster?

Clive Thompson, in his Wired Magazine article in May, describes what happened after the massive snowstorm hit Washington D.C. this past February. Unbelievers pounced on the opportunity to ridicule the idea of Global Warming. “How can Global Warming be real when there’s so much snow? Hearing that question — repeatedly — this past February drove Joseph Romm nuts.”

“Joseph Romm — a physicist and climate expert with the Center for American Progress — [explained that] Climate change is all about trend lines. You don’t observe it by looking out the window but by analyzing decades’ worth of data.

Whether or not you believe that Global Warming is a problem, I’m sure you agree with Mr. Thompson that looking out the window is not an accurate way of assessing whether it is or not. And yet many companies run their businesses by figuratively looking out the window. After all, it’s the way they have always done business, and it has worked so far.

Does a blizzard in Dallas mean Global Warming isn’t happening?

Global Warming, Flat Earth, and Sweaty Underwear

The Global Warming example is a controversial one, with many people on either side of the argument, so let me go back a little further in time to an idea that used to be universally accepted and now is rejected by everyone, with the possible exception of a few members of the Flat Earth Society.

Spontaneous Generation was a theory that suggested living things could be spontaneously created from non-living objects. Frogs were spontaneously created by the mud on the banks of the Nile. Sewage created rats. Meat hanging in butcher shops created flies.

There were even recipes that would produce certain creatures. Mice were spontaneously created by combining sweaty underwear and husks of wheat in a jar. Over the next 21 days, the sweat from the underwear combined with the husks, and voila! Mice appeared.

How to Make Bees

My favorite recipe was probably the one for bees. You could kill a bull, bury it upright with its horns sticking out of the ground, and in a month a swarm of bees would emerge from the carcass of the bull.

It’s fun to look at those examples and laugh at how silly they seem, yet they were believed wholeheartedly for hundreds of years. Spontaneous Generation wasn’t definitively refuted until a Louis Pasteur experiment in 1859.

Don’t use mud to make frogs. Use your data to make decisions.

Companies that are run based on gut feel and intuition are just like the people who think that sticking a basil leaf between two bricks in the sunlight will create scorpions. Back when nobody was able to harness their massive amounts of data, intuition was the best you could do. Now that we have modern, scientific ways of collecting your data, of slicing and dicing it, you are able to see what is happening now within the context of millions of data points gathered over the past several years. You simply cannot survive if you insist on doing business the way you always have. Just because it has worked for the past 30 years doesn’t mean it will continue to work. Why? Because your competitors are adopting modern, scientific approaches to decision-making, and they will destroy you if you don’t follow suit.


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