One of my sons graduates this summer and has been busy finishing his Economics dissertation. To be honest, he was disappointed that the relationship that he expected to see between foreign investment and economic growth was not supported by the data.

A big part of him wanted to be able to conclude that the relationship still existed and that it was just that he didn’t have enough data, or enough of the right type of data to prove it.

That’s a mistake I’ve made before. I once led a team that developed a new store format for a retailer, and after seeing big sales increases following its re-opening, we concluded that it was successful even though we knew that there were other factors aiding its performance (e.g. a new office block opening around the corner).

My desire to be seen as successful was bigger than my desire to genuinely learn about what was happening on the ground. Such hubris leads to poor decision-making and investments. For example, Tesco wasted $1 billion on its investment in the Fresh & Easy store chain in the US even though early results demonstrated that the concept wasn’t working.

What you might wish to happen isn’t always reflected by reality. As a result, you need to ensure that you are adopting a scientific perspective to your big decisions and investments.

My son has – slightly reluctantly – based his dissertation conclusion on the data, not his prejudice. Where are you making decisions based on what you’d like to be true, rather than what the results are telling you?

Off The Record: The Scientist by Coldplay

I was just guessing at numbers and figures,

Pulling the puzzles apart

Questions of science, science and progress,

Do not speak as loud as my heart