RCA Part 5: Separate analysis from narrative
Humans make natural story-tellers and avid listeners - but stories are not analysis. Great organisations implement practices that promote an analytical mindset and encourage evidence-based decision making. What’s important is that we recognise the story and any associated opinions, even those of experts, as just that - opinions and not analysis. Often, the story is the ‘show’, a way of getting attention and traction for your subject. That’s great – but your story also needs the gritty facts, both positive and negative.
In recent years the lines between narrative (stories) and analysis (logic) have become increasingly blurred. Much of what we once considered narrative and opinion has been repackaged as analysis. Sure, much of the conjecture and opinion originate from experienced and trustworthy sources but it is, nevertheless, still only a narrative with all the potential for inaccuracy that this allows.
If you’re uncertain about this, just turn on your TV or radio and select a show on politics, the economy or sports. Listen long enough and you’ll hear an exchange that goes a little something like this:
Host: “This is an interesting development, now over to Chris for some analysis.” Guest/commentator: “Thanks, Martin. In my opinion, I think it’s pretty clear that this means [insert compelling speculative statement and some further opinion and speculation].”
So, what we’re encouraged to accept as analysis is more typically opinion and/or guesswork and is highly subjective - albeit tremendously convincing and extremely contagious.
This also applies to whichever information highway we jump on: whether that’s the internet, social media and even the national news services. We are fed a constant diet of partial stories, often without substance or even in some cases, with incorrect or a skewed version of the facts. We pick the narratives we engage with readily but it’s our responsibility to do our research, look at real facts and allow analysis to emerge without bias or influence. It’s very difficult.
Within our organisations however, we have a little more control over the communications we adopt and share so the onus to get things right is vitally important. The approach to analysis should be part of our business culture. We say x; back it up with y; and source the facts with z. This is what we look for from leaders, journalists or politicians – just the facts please - but it’s all too often abused in the bid for influence of some kind.
Narrative is also the predominant form of information transfer in our working lives. When opinion, narrative and storytelling dominate, they have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of our decision making. Stories encourage us to paper over the gaps in our knowledge, accept faulty timelines and jump to conclusions and solutions.
In very simple terms, narrative is a hothouse for cultivating the illusion of certainty. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Effective problem solvers employ visual cause and effect analysis (our next article will explain this in more detail) to break down the chain of events and to fact-check in a logical step-by-step manner. Visual analysis shows us where our knowledge of an event is strong and where it is weak, or most likely, where it is missing altogether.
It’s the very opposite of a good story.
Are you generating your decision making from facts or just from the most compelling stories? What processes have you put in place to fact-check your information?
When ‘facts’ are fluid or completely absent, virtually any solution can be made to fit virtually any problem – even ineffective solutions. Make sure you have conducted genuine analysis before solutions are generated.