Soft decisions based on hard data

March 18, 2014       The NonProfit Times      

How many decisions have been influenced by so-called “hard data?” And, how many disastrous decisions have been made based on this hard data?

In his book “Simply Managing” Henry Mintzberg makes the case that information called hard data is no harder than a cloud, which appears solid from a distance but which anyone can poke a hand through without encountering obstruction.

So it is with “hard data.” It will always win over “soft data,” which is seen as fuzzy, ambiguous or subjective. In fact, Mintzberg writes, that hard data has a soft underbelly.

Consider:

  • Hard data are limited in scope. They might provide the basis for description, but not often for explanation. Did our numbers go up just because we were better, or was a competitor dumber?
  • Hard data are often excessively aggregated. These data usually comprise lots of facts combined and then reduced to some aggregate number, such as everyone’s favorite, the bottom line.
  • Much hard information arrives too late. Information takes time to “harden.” Events first have to be documented as “facts” and then combined into results and then reports.
  • A surprising amount of hard data is just plain unreliable. All those numbers look good, but it is important to remember where they came from.
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