Why you can’t base business decisions on numbers alone


Boris is the wise old TNW CEO who writes a weekly column on everything about being a tech entrepreneur – from stress management to awkwardness. You can receive his thoughts directly in your inbox by subscribing to his newsletter!

I absolutely hate it when people disagree with me. Yes it is good to have more perspective and eventually any idea is improved with critical comments and I do everything in my power not to intimidate the concepts. But at this exact moment, when I am making my case, I can’t believe the other person can’t see my side of the argument – especially when I think the “numbers” are on my side.

There is a great cartoon that captures that awkward moment in meetings very effectively, when different perspectives collide. The cartoon shows two people arguing fiercely over whether the number on the floor between them is a 6 or a 9… and they’re both right.

Credit: LensShift

I think a lot of business decisions are hampered because people are looking for facts and evidence – absolute truth – so they can make the right decision. Unfortunately, life is more complicated than that.

You can base all of your decisions just on facts, statistics, or A / B testing, but we all know the answers you can get from them are only as good as the questions. They can also be affected by the person asking the question or the purpose behind the questioning.

[Read: Never only hire the smartest people]

Statistics and metrics are often presented as unambiguous. “The numbers don’t lie!” they are screaming in your face, holding the prints from the latest A / B tests between “beige” and “beiger” for your logo.

It’s a point of view … but here’s mine: the numbers lie like a motherfucker.

Or rather, they can be made lie. The numbers are like jelly, taking any shape their holder wants. You can choose the metric that you think shows you the absolute truth, but deep down you probably know that the biggest challenge isn’t just about that single number.

In fact, I wouldn’t mind owning a shirt that says “Lies, Bloody Lies and Statistics” with an asterisk behind the statistics for “Facts, Figures, and A / B Test Results” (quick note to me- same: start selling them).

The truth is, life is fluid and unpredictable, and even the simplest decision can have a thousand variables all of which impact the outcome and complicate the plot.