We Are All Analysts

On a daily basis and in all areas of life people analyse existing and newly acquired information in order to make what they perceive to be the best decisions in support of their goals. For those tasked with analysing information relating to a company or other similar organisation, these analyses are made even more critical.

In addition to this fact, we have been witness to an age in which greater information accessibility has allowed knowledge consumers to adopt roles traditionally assigned to specialist analysts. Most executives are now better positioned to make decisions based on their own direct analyses, than to fully rely on another individual's conclusions.

In recognising this and drawing from expertise in analytical science, we should seek to make individuals aware of the two most important traits in the very best analysts - expertise as well as self-consciousness in their cognitive processes. This means not only being a subject matter expert, but also understanding and questioning the methods through which their conclusions have been reached.

We can witness everything from managers and directors searching for information that supports their assumptions (confirmation bias), to favouring a decision solely based on a past success (anchoring). Such distorted analyses lead to bad decisions that harm organisational objectives.

Further adding to this analytical short circuit is that in most cases an outsider pointing out these biases may lead such individuals to become even more entrenched in their beliefs (backfire effect). Even under normal circumstances, adults are in general highly resistant to questioning their own belief systems, and personality types can also be a strong influencing factor in this area.

Despite these cognitive shortcomings, a great deal of emphasis continues to be placed on collecting and processing larger volumes of information, while neglecting the very factors that influence the conclusions derived from this same information. No matter how well we understand a topic, if we fail to recognise our own inherent mental strengths and weaknesses, our minds will be inevitably swayed at one point or another towards inaccurate conclusions, with potentially devastating results.

The only way to address this weakness is to understand the cognitive processes that lead us to an understanding, and to ensure constant analytical awareness through training as well as its integration in knowledge management systems. While we can hope that computers may one day address all of our cognitive shortcomings, the human role in every key aspect of an organisation makes this an unlikely development for the foreseeable future - as such, we neglect the human analytical process at our own peril.

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