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Data Driven and Evidence Based

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Data Driven and Evidence Based

Old 25th Nov 2017, 18:57
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Data Driven and Evidence Based

Robert McNamara was an interesting character. A Harvard Business School Graduate, he was hired by the Ford Motor Company as a "Whizz Kid" who helped reform Ford with modern planning and processes. After a short time as Company President, he was hired by President Kennedy as Secretary of Defense and oversaw the American escalation into the Vietnam War.

McNamara was a believer in numbers and statistics. With enough of them he believed any problem could be solved, and the best decisions made. Throughout his involvement in the Vietnam war he believed that with enough data and statistics he could not only prove the necessity for the war but measure its success. As such, he demanded the collection of data on almost every aspect of the war, from the infamous "body count" to the numbers of successfully indoctrinated, collaborative or "happy" villagers.

Masses of data was collected daily. This, the administration claimed, repeatedly and publicly, not only proved the success of their strategies and approach, but even provided a timeline to its successful conclusion. Policies were build on the data. For example, it was deemed, in some farming areas, that those running from low flying helicopters were clearly enemy and should therefore be killed. This had the effect of increasing the "body count", a primary statistic that would show the success of leadership and policy! Unit commanders complied with instructions and pleased their superiors. The war machine and its administration, with a very human element behind the data, increasingly bent to provide the numbers and the data to please the superiors, as any large organization would.

The result of all this data was an unnecessarily prolonged war costing millions of lives, billions of dollars, widespread destruction, misery and an America that turned on itself in a manner not seen since the Civil War. Despite all the data, McNamara himself had deep rooted doubts as to the whole conduct of the war which he expressed privately in classified correspondence - that little voice whispering in his head...

This, all because the data was elicited to prove theories, to prove management, and to prove pre-determined assumptions; whose proof suited individual agendas, despite the fact that I am sure everyone in the administration truly did want to win the war in short order or at least avoid all out calamity.

Data which was supportive was given disproportionate weight. That which was not was ignored or not even collected. Those who gave "good" data were rewarded. Those who didn't were seen as unsupportive or even subversive.

Ironically, throughout all this, the men on the frontline could all see the war was being lost. Innocents were dying, waste was enormous and unnecessary. The statistics were flawed, or, at the very least, telling the wrong story, leading to erroneous conclusions and decisions. Many tried through legitimate channels to voice their concerns. When this failed, the media did the job for them, plunging the American hierarchy into crisis whereby they resorted to lies and cover-ups that ultimately cost their jobs, their credibility and their honour. These leaders only retained deep seated regrets that stayed until their respective deaths.

I think we can all see how analogous this is. "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it".

So do we need data and evidence? Of course we do. It would be irresponsible not to collect data and analyze it. However history shows that its collection and analysis must be carefully considered. Those who analyze it must be free to illustrate its relevance and accuracy, and not be afraid to voice concerns on the underlying message it may contain. Data should not be skewed to show an desired outcome. That is folly indeed. Nor should the data be misrepresented.

In the collection of data for business, the primary metric is profit. Perhaps we should query if even something so fundamental and widely accepted as profit, is the leading statistic a company should measure. It's an easy one that accountants alone deal with. Hence business gets driven by accountants, much like bloodthirsty commanders drove the body count forgetting the bigger picture. But what about other corporate metrics. Happiness of both Employees and Customers? Job Security? Corporate Responsibility? Charity? Are these not also measures of success and the ultimate longevity of an enterprise? Is a company not formed for the betterment of all involved? Profit at the expense of declining working conditions or human ethics and morality makes little sense in the bigger picture. I believe that as we go into an enlightened 21st century, these metrics will take on more importance and better define corporate success. Any company with the foresight to make a head start in this direction, is likely to go much further as the rules change.

There is a report of a media hungry airline CEO who claimed his pilots could not fly more than 18 hours a week and therefore could not possibly be fatigued. The frontline pilots had a different view. This CEO either had flawed data, was collecting the wrong data or was misrepresenting the data in the context of how hard his pilots worked. If that was his belief, it's hardly surprising he got himself and the airline into hot water. The media may be taken in by his deceit for a while but in time the truth will prevail as it ultimately did in Vietnam. And do his fantastic profit successes really make him a success in the human sense? Will his empire survive, going forward, in a rapidly changing world? In my humble opinion he is a foolish, selfish man, myopic on one metric, and doing a disservice to his company and country. Perhaps he will turn out to be the Lyndon Johnson or Nixon of the airline world. We will see.

Finally, I would say this: Sometimes it's necessary for leaders to go directly to the frontline and simply talk. And listen to, not only the good but also the bad, and not discount it as the complaints of a disaffected few. Any combat grunt in Vietnam could probably have given a truer reflection of the situation, it's likely outcome, and contributed to better policy than the vast amounts of expensive data did. Had they truly listened and not assumed the men were simply young, uneducated in the intricacies of higher management or pushing a personal agenda, a better picture would have presented. The majority of the frontline troops, who went above and beyond daily, were the only real heroes of the whole war. The administration probably would not have liked the picture they painted, but it was the reality, as history so brutally and publically showed as the last helicopters fled the US embassy in 1975, leaving a shattered country and so many ruined lives in their wake.

In the final analysis, just like a profit, the body count still showed a win.
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Old 25th Nov 2017, 19:04
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What an outstanding great post

gearlever is offline  
Old 25th Nov 2017, 19:11
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Excellent post!
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Old 25th Nov 2017, 19:51
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It is also interesting to note that with all the data EK collects on pilot performance and their current 'plan' to weed out the poor performers that NONE of the data would have picked out the pilots in any of the incidents we have had recently!
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Old 26th Nov 2017, 03:46
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Excellent comparison. Should be required reading.
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Old 26th Nov 2017, 03:57
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McNamara in all his hubris and humility.

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Old 26th Nov 2017, 09:09
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Brilliant post 👍👌👍
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Old 26th Nov 2017, 11:12
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There is an excellent 10 part series on the Vietnam war on Emirates IFE at the moment which pretty much agrees with what the OP states. I don't suppose any EK management have actually watched it.
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Old 26th Nov 2017, 18:55
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Mods, Could this be moved to somewhere (?) that gives it more prominence. That post really is so good, but fewer will read it here.

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Old 26th Nov 2017, 18:57
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Originally Posted by Sygyzy View Post
Mods, Could this be moved to somewhere (?) that gives it more prominence. That post really is so good, but fewer will read it here.

Never ever.

It's an American website....
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Old 27th Nov 2017, 01:50
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It's a very good piece about data. Too bad it has no...... data.

McNamara was one of the few people who knew the war was unwinnable very early on. He used his (waning) power within the administration to facilitate back door peace talks.

The war continued because (to their equal discredit) Johnson had seen too many Westerns and thought the war could be won with one final knockout blow. Ho Chi Minh thought the war could be won by using the peace talks as a (master class) fan dance of bad faith whilst building up for the Tet offensive for.... one final knockout blow.

A little reading would not go amiss.
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Old 27th Nov 2017, 05:18
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So Dropp:

Did you miss the analogy of the piece and its implied caution?
Or could you not resist demonstrating your historical intellect?
Perhaps you are a fan of McNamara himself?
Or are you simply one of those pilots who has to argue? The primary reason why this site is ignored by so many as relevant posts simply descend into a series of petty squabbles making us all look less than "professional". Pilots' can't help themselves.

McNamara was a statistician who used data extensively but not the only one. Vietnam was a war largely guided by misleading numbers and escalated accordingly. The numbers were used inappropriately but bad politics also had a large part to play. Also, I think you will find Tet was not Ho's preferred option, but driven by the militants in the north to provoke an uprising in the south.

However, I don't think the point of the post was to debate McNamara or history. Historians smarter than you or I are still conducting that debate and it all depends on who you read. Clearly there were many people responsible for the ultimate failure as the post suggests. Most of us get the message and see its relevance in our day to day airline lives. We can clearly see the misuse of data for certain agendas. I hope the management consider the caution in good faith and maybe take a lesson from the metaphor.

So why don't we Dropp the history debate and the insults.

Last edited by TOGA Thrust; 27th Nov 2017 at 05:43.
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Old 27th Nov 2017, 09:35
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Originally Posted by Sygyzy View Post
Mods, Could this be moved to somewhere (?) that gives it more prominence. That post really is so good, but fewer will read it here.
That won't happen. All serious posts on this website are relegated to sections where they will inevitably disappear below the pile of rubble. I recently posted something about a rape that took place on a layover of mine. The mods saw fit to move it to the "Cabin Crew" section because the victim was a cabin attendant. Go figure!

In my opinion, this website had its scrotum removed (and lost all credibility) when they succumbed to the intimidation of a particular airline (which features prominently in numerous stickys) which is not allowed to be mentioned.

Your Proxy

Fantastic post. Excellent analogy. Relevant.
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Old 27th Nov 2017, 20:58
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In other words, Operation success but the patient died !
Flyboy_SG is offline  
Old 28th Nov 2017, 11:34
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Excellent analogy, and the "data" is not needed.

This definitely needs a "bump" back to the top, as it should be read by more.
pilotguy1222 is offline  
Old 10th Dec 2017, 08:51
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The problem is, the people that pay for the collection of the data, have their own agenda.

And they pick the appropriate data, to support their own preconceived ideas or agendas.

The issue is not 'data'.

it is 'objectivity'.
Oriana is offline  
Old 10th Dec 2017, 13:16
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Objectivity and airline management are total opposites...
sluggums is offline  

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