Get real – avoid the danger of making decisions based on personal experience only

Big data numbers



Dangerous foundation for decision making

If I have experienced it … then it must be true!

I had an interesting conversation with someone the other day.  They had spent many years as a volunteer producer at a local community radio station.  A key part of the role was answering the calls of people who rang the radio station during the program.  The volunteer producer asked when the radio station was going to bring back “request radio” – where people could ring in and request a particular song to be played, because “since we’ve stopped taking requests we don’t get as many phone calls”.

Interestingly, I had seen the station statistics and knew that one particular program that the volunteer described as “much loved and had many people ringing in” was actually one where listener numbers dropped considerably the minute it aired.  It got me thinking about the two different types of datasets – one based on personal experience and the other on impersonal big picture figures.

Let’s think about the data.


The radio station has roughly 250,000 weekly listeners, and would receive approximately 750 calls a week.  That’s around 0.03% of the listening audience that is making direct contact with the station.

It hammered home to me the importance of collecting big picture data.  The volunteer producer was unaware of the station statistics and so had no reason to doubt their experience as being a ‘true’ picture.  When I provided the station statistics they expressed considerable surprise.  They were basing their logic on their own personal experience – which makes absolute sense!  I can conceive of many situations where personal experience would provide a misleading view of a situation.  (For instance, the man sitting arms folded and frowning in the front row during my conference keynote – who I’m convinced hates every word I say – comes up afterwards and says how insightful and thought-provoking he found me).   It was a great reminder to check my facts with a source other than myself.

So where might you be making decisions that might be better informed if you got a bigger picture data set?



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