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Friday, August 23, 2019

Qualitative Data is Data Too (Part 2)

In Part 1, I contrasted traditional data analysis and qualitative analysis. In this part, I tell a story that combines them.

Unfortunately, I don't have a source for the story. At one point, I thought I read it in the work of Russ Ackoff but I haven't been able to find it in his writing. Then I thought it might be from Gene Woolsey. I was fortunate enough to spend some time on the phone with Dr. Woolsey toward the end of his career. He agreed that the story sounded like something that either he or Ackoff would have written but it wasn't his and he didn't recognize it from Ackoff's work. Therefore, even though I know that I read it or heard it somewhere, it remains apocryphal.

Since I can't find the source, I can't double-check the details. If anyone can confirm a source, please let me know.

Here's the story...

Back around 1970, a quantitative analyst was hired as a consultant by a Fortune 500 firm in Los Angeles. They were considering moving their operation out of the city to the suburbs and they wanted him to evaluate the long-range cost/savings of expanding where they were versus relocating. The consultant gathered the necessary data, did the analysis, and concluded that there would be significant savings if the company moved. He reported his results, got paid for his time, and went on his way. Nothing changed at the company.

About 18 months later, he ran into the CEO who had hired him. He brought up the project and apologized that his work hadn't been useful. The CEO seemed surprised and assured him that his analysis had been crucial to their decision.

"But you're not moving" the consultant said.

"No, we're not" admitted the CEO. "We wanted to stay in the city. We thought it was better for our employees and we believed that we had a positive impact on our neighborhood. Our corporate mission seemed to fit with the city location. There was a lot of pressure to move and save money but we didn't know what the savings would be or, conversely, what the cost would be to stay put. Your analysis made the numbers clear and we decided that would afford to not move."

The moral of the story? The analyst did his job with a traditional quantitative analysis. The company made their decision on a combination of quantitative and qualitative factors. On the numbers alone, one could argue that the company reached the wrong conclusion. On the qualitative analysis, it wasn't clearly a right or wrong conclusion but it was a decision that the executives and the board were comfortable with.

In Part 3, I'll give an example of my own qualitative analysis. By necessity, my conclusions will be "fuzzy" and you might disagree with them but you should still be able to see the logic connecting my observations and conclusions.




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