Asking the right questions. Seeking the relevant information.

jackLet us play a card guessing game. I have a standard pack of 52 cards. I pick one at random and ask you for the chances it is a Jack. That is not that difficult. It is 1/13.

But it is not any standard pack of cards. We do not know how many cards in it. In fact we do not even know if there are any Jacks in it. It is like those card dispenser contraptions that spit out a card, except of unknown size. An acceptable answer is, “I don’t know”, because the problem is not frequentist probability question. The problem space has switched from risk to uncertainty.

But we can’t end it there. What if we need to find out to help with a business decision? After all, our output as a leader is decision making- make that informed decision making under uncertainty. So we have to push forward. What if we can reduce the uncertainty by asking questions? What if I made available volumes of varied data (BigData) about the card?

Sidebar,  if you ever followed Jonah Lehrer, renowned Bob Dylan scholar who also wrote books on creativity, or you are one of the hustling valley entrepreneur type you might answer  the question by,

“Questions? I won’t ask questions. I will force your hand and turn the card over to see”.

But let us stay realistic here and continue. What questions would you ask? What relevant data would you seek in the BigData?

You could ask: What color is the card?
But is that relevant and help to reduce uncertainty?

BigData could say: In 200,000 card pickings there were 103,568 red and rest black cards
Is that BigData relevant?

You could ask: Is that a picture card?
This  helps to reduce uncertainty. If the answer is no, you are done. If the answer is yes you still have work to do, but are at a better state than before.

BigData could say: In the past 200,000 card pickings a few picture cards were sighted.
This helps too but not as effective as you actively seeking the information.

The role of information is to reduce uncertainty. If it does not help reduce uncertainty in decision making it is useless regardless of its volume and variety (or how many ever Vs you add).  BigData is not a substitution for application of mind. You the decision maker need to ask the right questions for the decision at hand and not let it spew you with interesting findings.

Do you ask the right questions?

What biological platitudes and scientific cliches do to our brain

Leo Widrich of BufferApp writes,

Our brain on stories: How our brains become more active when we tell stories

We all enjoy a good story, whether it’s a novel, a movie or simply something one of our friends is explaining to us that they’ve experienced. But why do we feel so much more engaged when we hear a narrative about events?

And he goes on to quote some scientist to make his case about brain activation.

Popular marketing guru Seth Godin writes,

How can I explain the never-ending irrationality of human behavior?

The Lizard brain.

The lizard is a physical part of your brain, the pre-historic lump near the brain stem that is responsible for fear and rage and reproductive drive. Why did the chicken cross the road? Because her lizard brain told her to


Remember this author called Jonah Lehrer and his books Proust is a Neuroscientist, How We Decide and Imagine? All based on the discredited authors interpretation of brain science? Too bad he got busted for plagiarism and not for his ideas.

We cannot leave out the numerous books on neuro-marketing that claim to have uncovered the truth to product marketing, product placement, pricing,promotion etc through an understanding of our neural activity. Every time I write about Segmentation someone comments on my post saying it is not supported in brain science of marketing.

And then there are numerous TED talks. The list goes on.

Well meaning people with no training or understanding in brain science, more importantly without the will to seek contradictory evidence use some correlation based research as indisputable evidence, drawing conclusions that even the original researchers would not.

In a length piece in The Guardian neuropsychologist Vaughn Bell takes down the flimsy cases popular gurus (and quacks) make based on complex brain science.

The “biological proof” argument makes about as much sense as saying that you have confirmed that pancakes and pizzas “really are” different because you have chemically analysed the ingredients. It’s only in rare circumstances where two things appear to be identical that a biological analysis will be the deciding factor in confirming whether they differ or not.

instead of revealing the beautiful complexity at our core, we live in a culture where dull biological platitudes make headlines and irritating scientific cliches win arguments. In response, we do not need a simpler culture but one that embraces complexity.

Neuroscience holds a prism up to human nature. Be suspicious of anyone who says there are no colours to be seen.

Next time you hear a guru advice you about doing an activity because it is supported by data in brain research it would serve you well to reread Bell’s article.