This is the 51st in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.
When’s the last time you sat in the bleachers?
When’s the last time you heard a Jefferson Starship record? (More than a million were sold last year.)
Did you see Superman II (It did $14 million its first weekend.)
Do you read Reader’s Digest? (The circulation is 31 million worldwide.)
Have you seen the top 10 TV shows?
When’s the last time you took a trip on a Greyhound bus?
How many times each month do you shop in a supermarket?
Have you seen evangelists on TV? (Viewers send them millions of dollars.)
Have you browsed through a card shop? (Hallmark sells one billion cards a year.)
Have you stood on an assembly line?
Gone down into a coal mine?
Spent time on a farm?
If you don’t know what’s happening in other people’s worlds, you can’t make good decisions in the business world.
I agree with the final statement, that the best decisions, business or otherwise, are made when one is well-informed.
And there’s no excuse not to be informed well-informed when you are going through the decision making process. With Internet access, one can find a lot of information, such as the following (in keeping with the list of items above):
- almost 75 million people attended a major league baseball game in 2012.
- Adele’s newest album, 25, sold over 8 million copies last year.
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens had an opening weekend of over $240 million last year.
- Reader’s Digest currently has a global circulation of 10.5 million (ouch)
- The top TV show in 2015 was The Big Bang Theory.
- Hallmark sold 4.75 billion cards in 2015.
- Greyhound had 18 million passengers in 2014.
- The average number of weekly trips to the grocery store was 2.2 trips in 2012.
- Televangelist Joel Osteen has an estimated net worth of $40 million.
- According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), there were 1,458 coal mines in the U.S. in 2008.
- In 2012, 3.2 million farmers operated 2.1 million farms.
- The Jean-Luc Lagardère Plant in Toulouse-Blagnacis, France, mainly used as a final assembly line for the production of the Airbus A380, has a 470m long assembly line.
Finding all these fun facts took less than an hour, I’m sure 35 years ago when the above ad was written, finding such info may have taken a few days, and required one to visit libraries and make several phone calls.
While I would spend a bit more time verifying such fun facts, it would likely not be too time consuming to go through such a verification process.
So yes, by all means, gather data as part of the decision making process.
But perhaps more importantly, once you have that data, you need to act on it.
Many people suffer from paralysis by analysis; they just like to keep gathering more data, and doing more analysis. They are hesitant to make a decision, most likely because of fear of making a bad decision, a fear of failing.
So the Internet is a double-edged sword; it helps you find relevant data, but it also enables you to keep looking for more and more data, which at some point will add little to no value to the decision making process.
I think the best approach is to set a deadline for when a decision needs to be made, gather the necessary data, do your analysis, and then make a decision.
Afterwards, it is also important to evaluate your decision to see what went right and what went wrong so you can do a better job next time.
So while the relevant data needed for a decision may have changed over the past 35 years (poor Reader’s Digest), the importance of, and volume of data available today, has increased dramatically, and one needs to be well-versed in how best to use that data, and how to best move through the decision making process.