Big data versus the not-so-humble opinion


Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen recently blogged about the times when a HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) outweighs data in business decision-making. While I have seen plenty of hefty opinions trump high-quality data, those opinions did not always come from the highest paid person.

The stubborn truth is that we all hold our opinions in high regard regardless of what we base our opinions on.

“Opinions are robust: they persist without support,” Beston Jack Abrams explained. While you would think that data should shake such wobbly foundations, as Abrams further explained, “nothing causes greater adherence to an opinion than opposition to it.”

Our minds are often already made up before we look at data. If our opinions are attacked by data, we often use data to fight back. Big data has actually made this easier since with so much data available these days, we can always find data supporting our opinions. Strong opinions create blind spots, but omission neglect conveniently fills them in, fueling our overconfidence that our vision is complete and correct.

You see this in politics all the time. To avoid controversy I will not use specific examples, but we all know issues that are deeply polarizing and hotly debated. The opinions of either side are impervious to even considering disconfirming data. The debate rhetoric rarely raises above each side throwing vitriolic sound bites at each other.

Research by social scientists has shown that when people with polarized opinions get to know each other personally, the animosity subsides and each side learns to respect the other’s point of view and even openly considers the data supporting it. However, despite the debate becoming more amicable, both sides come away feeling even more strongly that their opinion is correct.

With all the hubbub we hear these days about becoming a data-driven organization, you might think debates over conflicting opinions will be ended by data, which will get everyone driving in the same direction. But no matter how big the data, opinions will still matter. And not just the opinions of the highest paid people. In my humble opinion, you should never discount the disruptive power of the not-so-humble opinion.

What is your opinion? Have you encountered situations where no matter how much data you used you still could not get someone to change their opinion about a business decision? Share your thoughts below.


About Author

Jim Harris

Blogger-in-Chief at Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality (OCDQ)

Jim Harris is a recognized data quality thought leader with 25 years of enterprise data management industry experience. Jim is an independent consultant, speaker, and freelance writer. Jim is the Blogger-in-Chief at Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality, an independent blog offering a vendor-neutral perspective on data quality and its related disciplines, including data governance, master data management, and business intelligence.

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