Using Data to Make Better Decisions

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Click to learn more about author Carie Lemack.

Data is neither an end unto itself nor the end of anything in particular. It is instead the end of the beginning of a process, whose ultimate end is to improve decision-making and enable leaders to make the right decisions. To do these things requires perspective, so you may have the distance—physically and professionally—to be decisive. Nowhere is that perspective more clear than it is in space. Nowhere is the view as expansive, because nowhere else is the venue as exclusive, than it is aboard the International Space Station.

From that vantage point, according to a retired astronaut, Earth is more colorful than any collection of paints and more precious than any painting. The distance between the heavens and home allows you to think, free of the distractions in which we lower our heads and hunch our shoulders while staring at a screen. Such a sight pales before we can—and should—see, when we raise our heads to look at the stars: to admire this display of natural light, which contains over a billion points of data.

You do not, however, have to journey to space to find a place to gather and analyze data. The International Space Station is the place that space researchers use to identify the best available data and decide when and how to use that material. In so doing, data becomes a tool for making better decisions.

The lesson is simple: space has no room for error; which is to say if the data is wrong, everything else will undermine or ruin the mission. The mission rises or falls on the accuracy of the decisions a person makes, according to the data he or she uses.

While few of us will ever have to work under such grave conditions, and despite the gravity (pun intended) of such a scenario, the moral does not differ. Data informs our decisions, ranging from the everyday to the existential.

It is not enough to be decisive, not when a decision must be right. How, then, can we increase the odds in our favor? We can start by not treating all data equally, unless we can substantiate our actions and prove we are right, because numbers are mere symbols; they have value because of what we give them, a constant that does not vary due to politics or psychology.

By focusing on the data at our disposal, we can dispose of the least credible findings and find a superior source of information. Whether the numbers are of average size or astronomical significance, having the mindset of an astronaut will help us determine their worth.

That mindset is the culmination of research and testing, of validating theories and verifying results. It permits an individual to make an informed decision—a superior one, too—thanks to the accumulation of evidence.

From their analysis to our adoption of their methods, space provides a wealth of data. About that fact, we choose to be decisive in our agreement and agreeable to examining more data.

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