Then BI and Data Science Thinking Are Flawed, Too

Then BI and Data Science Thinking Are Flawed, Too

Steve Miller writes:

I just finished an informative read entitled “Everything is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer – How Common Sense Fails Us,” by social scientist Duncan Watts.

Regular readers of Open Thoughts on Analytics won’t be surprised I found a book with a title like this noteworthy. I’ve written quite a bit over the years on challenges we face trying to be the rational, objective, non-biased actors and decision-makers we think we are.

So why is a book outlining the weaknesses of day-to-day, common sense thinking important for business intelligence and data science? Because both BI and DS are driven from a science of business framework that formulates and tests hypotheses on the causes and effects of business operations. If the thinking that produces that testable understanding is flawed, then so will be the resulting BI and DS.

According to Watts, common sense is “exquisitely adapted to handling the kind of complexity that arises in everyday situations … But ‘situations’ involving corporations, cultures, markets, nation-states, and global institutions exhibit a very different kind of complexity from everyday situations. And under these circumstances, common sense turns out to suffer from a number of errors that systematically mislead us. Yet because of the way we learn from experience … the failings of commonsense reasoning are rarely apparent to us … The paradox of common sense, therefore, is that even as it helps us make sense of the world, it can actively undermine our ability to understand it.”

The author argues that common sense explanations to complex behavior fail in three ways. The first error is that the mental model of individual behavior is systematically flawed. The second centers on explanations for collective behavior that are even worse, often missing the “emergence” – one plus one equals three – of social behavior. And finally, “we learn less from history than we think we do, and that misperception skews our perception of the future.”

Reminds me of Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

Not that two books with a similar “take” proves anything but you should put them on your reading list.

I wonder when/where our perceptions of CS practices have been skewed?

Or where that has played a role in our decision making about information systems?

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