Data in an Anecdotal World, and The Chicago Approach

Ardian Baftiri, Class of 2019

Ardian Baftiri, Class of 2019

At the core of the Booth experience is The Chicago Approach— three words summing an idea with as many interpretations as people who experience it. Despite its interpretative malleability however, with enough probing common themes emerge: data, analytics, and results. Equipped with analytic tools, students strut off campus quietly summoning the world before them, “give me your problems, I will give you a data-driven solution.” Then they see, “Trump signs Muslim ban” on their phones and the power of data-driven solutions suddenly comes into question. If empirically substantiated solutions aren’t relevant for winning the most powerful office in the world, we must question what we’ve been preached to. We must question The Chicago Approach.

Now this isn’t an anti/pro-Trump article, but it does use the political arena as an example for evaluating the appropriateness of placing as much importance on data as Chicago Booth does. Continuing with the Trump example, we see the triumph of anecdotes over data in the illegal immigration debate as well. Data shows that immigrants are less likely to commit crime, with illegal immigrants not expected to commit a disproportionate share of crime. However, Trump repeatedly points out illegal immigrants have murdered citizens and he wants to reduce these senseless murders; he then relays the story of the illegal immigrant who killed a natural-born citizen. The story is factual. The argument is anecdotal. The solution is fantasy-land. Yet, the presidency was won! If data is seemingly irrelevant at the most important policy decisions, should Chicago Booth begin teaching “Impressive story-telling” rather than Applied Regression Analysis? Is the cost of a Booth MBA better spent elsewhere?

Despite the seeming insignificance of data-driven solutions at garnering success, the reality is that the argument above is anecdotal as well. We use an anomaly— the political success of Trumpian solutions— to suggest that Booth’s emphasis on data-driven solutions is flawed. In fact, data analysis has never before been seen as important a competitive advantage as now. Businesses across industries are relying on data to drive strategies, and according to research by the Economist Intelligence Unit 83% of professionals surveyed said data is making even existing products more profitable. Ironically, it is also data that made Trump successful, not anecdotes. Decades of data analysis into how our psychological biases could be used in negotiations revealed the importance of storytelling in circumventing the brain systems responsible for critical analysis— what I would argue was Trump’s actual source of success. Nevertheless, the reality remains: data is the future, and Booth is our conduit to it. So as you contemplate classes in coming quarters, consider these: Big Data, Data Driven Marketing, Applied Regression Analysis, and Machine Learning.

Ardi Baftiri is currently a Booth evening student and works in real estate development. He is an avid traveler and has visited over 35 countries.