But not knowing why doesnâ€™t sit well with our human brains. We yearn for patterns, explanations and stories to explain why what is happening is happening. Not knowing why also makes it difficult to get buy-in from others. If youâ€™re trying to convince a manager to make a choice based on your data, you can be much more convincing with a story coupled with data, instead of just the data itself. Storytelling is a powerful tool, but if taken too far it can quickly go from presenting what happened to pushing an agenda.
The problem with creating stories with data that reach too far is called the narrative fallacy, made popular by Nassim Talbm in his book The Black Swan:
â€œThe narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it makes us think we understand it more than we really do and as a result, become more confident in a story that isnâ€™t true.â€œ
When you think you understand what the visitors on your site are doing more than you really do, you may start to let the data take a back seat going forward, and fall into the trap of confirmation bias where you start paying attention only to information that confirms your story while ignoring information that challenges your preconceived notions.
Somanyblogs are promoting the idea of telling stories with data without a bit of warning on the dangers of that approach. The world is a very comÂplex place, and there is almost never a simÂple Â answer or a simÂple series of events to explain any action. In the end we donâ€™t actuÂally need stoÂries to make deciÂsions. Stop pushing agendas and get over who gets to take credit (I donâ€™t think itâ€™s a coincidence that the ones most interested in story telling Â are the same insufferable people who want to put off doing anything until after a meeting is held about it).
To make a deciÂsion, you simÂply need the abilÂity to comÂpare numÂbers and choose the best one. I donâ€™t need to know why variÂant C was betÂter than B, I simÂply need to know that it was 10% betÂter and then I can take that insight, apply the change and move forward.