CIOs Need To Realize That Seeing Is NOT Always Believing

by drjim on August 10, 2011

Just Because You Can Simulate It, Does Not Make It True…

Just Because You Can Simulate It, Does Not Make It True…

Let’s face it, CIOs just like everyone else are currently being overwhelmed with too much information on a daily basis. Things were bad a few years ago, but with the arrival of blogs, wikis, Internet video and smartphones, there just doesn’t seem to be any way for us to keep up. That’s why more and more CIOs are turning to simulations in order to visually present large amounts of information in a way that we can absorb it. However, it turns out that our simulations just might be lying to us…

What’s Wrong With Simulations

How many times have you been sitting at home, clicked on the news and seen that there is some trial going on somewhere in the world where a defense team has created a computer simulation of events to show to the jury? Perhaps just like the rest of the world you’ve seen the computer simulation of Tiger Wood’s car accident?

Both of these examples show just how easy it is these days to collect a great deal of information and then use it to create a simulation or animation that shows us how all of the data comes together. The problem with doing this is that it can easily lead to what researchers call the “propensity effect”.

The propensity effect occurs when we see a simulation of a collection of data and based on having seen this simulation, we become very, very confident that we know exactly what the data is telling us. The problem with this is that sometimes simulations lie.

Dr. Neal Roese and Dr. Kathleen Vohs have been looking into this condition. What they’ve found is that when we watch a computer simulation of an event, we are easily lead to believe that what we are seeing is what really happened – we forget that the simulation is just one way of looking at the data.

What CIOs Need To Do In Order To Make Accurate Decisions

In our highly complex world, CIOs are being presented with more and more animations and simulations of both performance and business data. We need to be aware that what we are seeing may not match up with reality no matter how pretty it looks.

What CIOs need to understand is that any time that data is animated, the person or persons who do the animation are showing us how they see the data. This can result in many different things happening. These include introducing identifying trends that don’t exist, identifying causes and effects that are not relevant, or even pinning blame on individuals or events that are not responsible.

Due to the amount of data that CIOs need to deal with on a daily basis, simulations and animations of large data sets are here to stay. However, it’s the responsibility of CIOs to not be swayed by the use of clever computer graphics. Make sure that you look “through” the numbers and take the time to consider what other conclusions that you might be able to draw from the same data.

What All Of This Means For You

The amount of data that a CIO is going to be expected to take in, process, and create correct decisions from is not going to decrease in the future. In fact, we can all assume that the quantity of data that we’re going to be bombarded with is only going to increase over time.

What this means for CIOs is that the simulation of all of this data – showing us how it fits together and how it moves over time is going to become more and more critical. However, we need to be aware that the propensity effect is at work – we may become too confident based on a simulation that we know what is going on.

In order to combat this condition, CIOs need to take a step back when they are presented with a simulation of data. We need to realize that what we are seeing is only one possible way of interpreting the data. Asking ourselves how else the data could fit together and where the simulation bias could lie are critical questions. Simulations aren’t going to go away, but CIOs need to make sure that they don’t allow themselves to be fooled by them…

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: What questions do you think that CIOs should ask themselves after seeing a simulation to ensure that they aren’t jumping to incorrect conclusions?

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