MARKET | Mar 22, 2019

The importance of being agnostic

Data can help us make decisions. But we must study them without any prejudice. Trying to read them with constantly fresh eyes

We hear about dashboards, we are smothered in the results given by algorithms on social networks, on search engines which decide affinities, what we prefer, what we don’t even know we prefer yet, what makes us tick. The data submitted to us in the company, the aggregations, the trends and the forecast data are the result of analysis, mergers, averages, and so on and so forth.

From request to result

Let’s think about an ice cream. Why an ice cream? Because it is the result of my hunger’s request: I didn’t have lunch, I like ice cream, I would like an ice cream, I would like chocolate and “stracciatella”. And yet, I already read that result with filters: mine. Filters which activate when I see something, when I see the consistency of ice cream – the one I like – or the color of chocolate that makes me imagine its (more or less bitter) taste; the parlor where I will go to buy it and the alternative offer that there will be.

But, that ice cream, which at the moment makes my mouth water, in a couple of hours’ time… I may not want it.

Same ice cream, same display, same consistency, same liking, but I will be sated and that same identical object – identical – will no longer attract my attention. I might not like that same ice cream in a while, because once – another ice cream – was indigestible. And since then, in my mind, all ice creams are indigestible.

Or I will read the nutritional values of ice cream and decide that it is not for me. In that case, no ice cream, but salad.


With which filters are we able to read the dashboards through which we should make our decisions? Do we read them to validate a thought which we already had, in the back of our mind, or can we manage to be agnostics and look at numbers and trends with the necessary detachment in order to listen to them and understand them?

When I submit reports, trends, trend curves to the management, despite these being numbers and graphs, there are essentially two reactions by the people around the table:

  • A justification, going into detail: for better or for worse about the curve, each seller, technician, PM inevitably says something like “it does not matter because that customer or that project“. In short, “that”, in particular, undermines, pollutes, raises, lowers the curve

  • A search for the answer to one’s beliefs by “interpreting” numbers: they see an answer in aseptic data where there is no answer, unnaturally reading too much into them.

Don’t select and always take a step back

Technology helps us, of course, but we must learn to be agnostics. We must learn not to select, at least at the beginning, i.e. we must place ourselves in front of the nets that we have pulled up from the sea, not assuming what we will find, but observing what we have found.

Certainly, the context is essential and it helps us to establish the contours: if we are fishing in the Mediterranean Sea, we can assume that our net will catch a certain type of fish and not others, typical of different areas. But here too, we must stop and look. Maybe we will catch typical freshwater fish, because we are close to a new river mouth… and it will not be by chance. It will be a DATUM.

Maybe we will not catch anything, due to bad weather, and that too, will not be by chance. It will be another DATUM.

And then again, if we pull up the net and find more plastic than fish, that too will be another DATUM.

We must then take a step back and read all these data without interpreting them, at least at the beginning. We must examine them from afar, as if we had never fished in our lives. As if fishing were something new for us. And if we don’t succeed, let’s get help from those who – really – have never caught any fish. Asking them to read these for us. With fresh eyes, an open mind and without any prejudice. And then the datum will tell us the secret that it has come to reveal.

Simona Piacenti