Just The Facts Ma’am

Actually, Jack Webb’s ‘Joe Friday’ character (in the popular 50’s TV series “Dragnet”) typically used the phrase “All we want are the facts, ma’am” (and sometimes “All we know are the facts ma’am”) when questioning women in the course of police investigations. Dragnet was acclaimed for its attention to detail and realistic portrayal of the nuts and bolts of police work.

If you watch police shows or movies you quickly learn that there is often a difference between what the investigators THINK happened, and what they have the evidence to PROVE happened. The American justice system, flawed though it may be, has rigorous rules pertaining to what can and cannot be introduced as evidence, to force the prosecution to present a case that is beyond reasonable doubt. If you are the accused, this is a wonderful thing.

In decisions pertaining to a person’s freedom, or even their life, we want the evidence to be narrowly defined and the certainty we are right to be very high. However, most of the decisions we make are not of this magnitude.

At Kimray we are faced with many decisions every day. Our perception of the weight of these decisions varies for reasons that often are not directly related to the objective measurements of the risks associated with them. Simply put, we often think decisions are very important which aren’t, and we sometimes make critical decisions lightly.

Additionally, when we think a decision is critical, we tend to want to achieve certainty before we commit. We think a little more data, or a little more time, or a little more study will yield a substantially better result.

As I read and study this tendency, what keeps surfacing is that most decisions are made with a certain amount of uncertainty and once you have 70% of the information, spending more time and effort doesn’t often yield a better decision. At Kimray, we have a tendency toward paralysis by analysis. We hold the heritage we have been entrusted with as sacred, and we are extra careful not to do the wrong thing. And that is not a bad thing (the being careful part, not the paralysis part.)

What I would rather we learn is to make the best decision we can with the right amount of information and accept an appropriate amount of risk and uncertainty. What would that look like?

We need to get better at risk analysis. Every decision represents a trade-off between the risks and the benefits under conditions of uncertainty. Risk analysis involves quantitative and qualitative risk assessment, risk management and risk communication to provide us with a better understanding of the risks and the benefits associated with a proposed course of action.

We need to continue developing better data and better ways to visualize that data. We need to be able to visualize the decision points, chance events and probabilities involved in various courses of action and be able to “see” alternative courses of action and the possible outcomes and risks associated with each action. Data is important, but we do not want to be “data driven.” There are other things that must be part of the decision process that data won’t show us.

We need to acknowledge our preferences and modes of utility. We have core values that we choose to uphold, a mission that we wish to actualize and a vision that we are working toward. These things may change the risk we are willing to take or may lead us to go against what the data shows for specific and important reasons.

Ultimately, we will make “evidence based” decisions. Unlike a court, we can select what we want to include as evidence and we have nothing to lose by hearing varying voices. We will value disagreement and welcome respectful conflict and discussion. We will listen to what the data tells us AND listen to what our hearts tell us.

Because each person has their own way of seeing and their own perception of risk and reward, we will continue to provide everyone as much relevant information as possible, while clearly and continually communicating the vision and strategic goals of the group. The wisdom of the crowd is essential in “judging” the evidence before us and reaching the best verdict.

That is the Kimray Way.