In defense of the indefensible

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"Data doesn't matter. I know what I know."

It's a refrain that we've heard in some form for years now.

Some people want what they want when they want it, data be damned. It can be very tough to convince folks who already have their minds made up, a point that Jim Harris makes in "Can data change an already made up mind?"

I've written before about the folly of statistics. No, data can't tell us everything, but surely it can offer penetrating insights into what we often take for granted.

Don't tell that, though to Derek Van Diest, the Edmonton Oilers reporter who went on incredible anti-stats rant. To make a long story short, Van Diest doesn't see the point of all of this analytics stuff—and he's not afraid to say as much. He knows his sports just fine without all of this newfangled data rearing its ugly head into the picture.

When I saw this story and Jim's post, I started thinking about the benefits of dealing with those who already have their minds made up. (Yes, there are benefits.) In a way, it's actually pretty liberating. Think about all of the time you would save on data-purification and -cleansing projects. After all, if data doesn't matter, then who cares if it's clean or not?

Big Data? Who cares? These people reject the import of Small Data.

And forget about proving cause and effect. People like Van Diest just know what's right. They don't need little things like evidence to support their beliefs. In fact, they will respond poorly if presented with anything even resembling a number.

Disagree with that mind-set if you like (I do). So does Billy Beane, Theo Epstein, and the contemporary sports world in general. However, in a perverse way, you do have to admire the honesty of such a close-minded approach. If nothing else, you know that you won't be able to successfully play the data card with these folks.

Simon Says

No, I haven't renounced my data religion. Perish the thought. Still, there's something to be said for knowing exactly where someone stands, even if you completely disagree with that person's position. At a minimum, you can easily decide if you'd like to take that person on as a client.

I only wish that I had known in advance that some of my clients were dataphobes before we started working together.

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About Author

Phil Simon

Author, Speaker, and Professor

Phil Simon is a keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of eight management books, most recently Analytics: The Agile Way. He consults organizations on matters related to strategy, data, analytics, and technology. His contributions have been featured on The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, The New York Times, and many other sites. In the fall of 2016, he joined the faculty at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business (Department of Information Systems).

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