My undergraduate advisor gave a talk each year to the newly declared Biochemistry majors. He would explain, usually with some tears, how as a young scientist he missed getting a Nobel prize because he was overly confident and selectively ignored data which did not fit his hypothesis.
As a young sugar chemist, he confidently told a colleague that his proposed molecular structure couldn’t exist. That colleague, Earl Sutherland, won a Nobel prize in 1971 for his discovery of cyclic AMP, a profoundly important signaling molecule. He and other groups were studying enzyme kinetics. Some enzymes exhibit cooperative effects, which mean that the standard analyses didn’t make a straight line when plotted in the usual way. My advisor loved elegant data presentation and dropped out data points which didn’t fit the expected straight line. Other groups didn’t and published seminal papers which are still frequently cited in enzymatic research published today. My advisor recognized later that he might have won a Nobel Prize if he had humbly listened to the actual data.
He concluded this little speech by saying “Check your assumptions at the lab door.”
It was quite an educational moment for we aspiring scientists with our own dreams of Nobel prizes.
You and I are vulnerable to being held hostage by our worldviews and frameworks for interpreting the information we (often selectively choose to) absorb. Some of the most important leadership work we can do is to work against unhelpful biases. One of the striking things I notice each time I read the novel Ender’s Game is that he succeeded in battle situations because he constantly rotated his holographic perspective on the battle, looking at it from every angle.
Many things happen and leaders can be surprised because the results are nothing like what was expected. This happens with investors and traders, too – “It doesn’t make any sense that gold prices would go down now” thinking.
Things happen. That’s reality. Your analysis model is flawed, not the real world. You need to adjust your model. Related: Even with the most beautiful strategy you should occasionally check to see if it’s working.
Remember: “Check your assumptions at the lab door.”