Questioning The Unquestionable

The music video was set on a desert island (Image credit:  ©12ee12 — stock.adobe.com #105027014)

One thing you probably don’t know about me is that I was a backing dancer in the video for the  2001 hit ‘Survivor’ by Destiny’s Child.  One of the reasons that you probably aren’t aware of this is that it isn’t something that I talk about much as 2001 seems a lifetime ago and I’ve made a major career shift since then. However the second (and most important reason) that you probably don’t know this about me is that it absolutely isn’t true.  Literally none of it.

That’s right, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I didn’t make the career change from backing dancer to business analyst (if only).  Yet, there was probably part of you that read that opening line and thought ‘wow, backing dancer, I wasn’t expecting that, how interesting!’. After all, it is a bizarrely specific claim isn’t it? And you’d be forgiven for thinking “what possible motive would Adrian have to try to convince me that he was in a music video if this isn’t true?”.

This is actually one of my go-to ‘bluffs’ for those unimaginitive ice-breakers where you have to list two truths and one lie. I’ve even created an entire backstory for it (and again, I cannot stress this enough: this is not true and it is a complete bluff):

  • It was filmed in Pinewood studios, in the same sound stage as James Bond
  • This is because it’s one of the few sound stages that has a tank of water that can be used to create the illusion of being in the Ocean
  • Don’t believe me? Google it!  And look at the video, there’s an ocean…
  • I’m towards the back. We were all wearing ‘cargo-style’ trousers

However, while the bluff isn’t true, some of the accompanying spiel is true.  Some scenes of James Bond films were filmed at Pinewood studios.  The video was set on an island in the Ocean.  The dancers did wear cargo trousers.  These would be weirdly specific things to know if it wasn’t true, wouldn’t they?  I mean, why on earth would I know these things if I wasn’t an expert backing dancer who worked with Destiny’s Child….?

The Logical Fallacy In Action

This is where we can uncover a logical fallacy.  Just because certain accompanying facts are verifiable and true, doesn’t mean the premise of an argument (or a statement of fact) is true if those do not actually relate to it.  Sadly, knowing that Pinewood studios exists doesn’t make me any more likely to have starred in a James Bond film, nor does it make it any more likely that I’m friends with Beyonce.  Yet dress it up in the way I mentioned early, and it might seem that it does…

Now, you’re probably thinking ‘how on earth does this relate to business and business analysis’.  Well, one key thing that we do day in day out is help people make decisions. Part of this involves weeding out the noise, unpacking and analysing arguments and asking challenging questions.  Sometimes, a stakeholder might create an argument that isn’t an outright bluff, but it has similar characteristics.  It has a massive logical leap which appears smaller because of the smaller chunks of (unrelated) verifiable information.  This might be deliberate (subterfuge) or innocent (perhaps they’ve been misled themselves).  Here’s a few examples:

  • The copy & paste: “The XYZ method worked in [an organisation in a different country ten years ago] and it worked really well.  We should implement it here!    (It’s verifiable that the method was used elsewhere, and the success might be partly verifiable… but why should we conclude that the success is repeatable in a completely different context, culture and set of conditions?)
  • The elitist:  But all ‘modern’ organisations are [doing whatever], the way we do things is so old, and if you resist it you are out of touch.  (Really? ALL organisations are doing it? What does ‘modern’ mean exactly? Even if that was understood, it might be verifiable that some are using whatever approach/method… but are others doing something else? And how do the success rates compare?)
  • The bandwagon:  “This solution is used by X% of the FTSE100…so we should use it”.  (And how effective is it? Do the ‘users’ actually like it? Will it meet our needs? And, assuming its not a commodity, could this actually be an opportunity to differentiate? Again, it might be the best option, but doing something just because others do it doesn’t sound like a sensible strategy)

Of course, there’s much more that could be written here about logical fallacies, cognitive biases, but I wanted to keep this article light.  The key point is that as business analysts sometimes we have to question the seemingly unquestionable.  We have to ask the ‘difficult’ and ‘wrong’ questions with rapport and curiosity that make us unpopular in the short-term, but popular and respected in the long term.  Respectfully challenging, in a way that leads to better outcomes, will win us friends in the long term.

But, if you remember nothing else from this article, remember I wasn’t a backing dancer in that 2001 video…

… or was I?  

What are your views? Please add a comment below, and let’s keep the conversation flowing!

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About the author:

Adrian Reed is Principal Consultant at Blackmetric Business Solutions, an organisation that offers Business Analysis consulting and training solutions. Adrian is a keen advocate of the analysis profession, and is constantly looking for ways of promoting the value that good analysis can bring.

To find out more about the training and consulting services offered at Blackmetric, please visit www.blackmetric.com

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7 thoughts on “Questioning The Unquestionable”

  1. It’s incredibly important for a BA to employ critical thinking about what they hear or see. We are often presented with ‘opinion as fact’ these days and must be prepared to challenge it where necessary. Great article; I always thought you had the moves though….;o)

  2. Another excellent blog Adrian. I recognise all of the examples. I do wish we had critical thinking as a core skill in business. It isn’t yet

  3. Another simple but thought-provoking post. We become better BAs not in great leaps but via many small improvements, and this is just one of those many things for us to consider as we become better in our roles.

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