Watching bad TV last night, I heard a great quote from Star Trek: “Logic is the beginning of wisdom, Valeris, not the end.” Captain Spock, Star Trek VI, The Undiscovered Country.
This struck me as particularly interesting, as I’ve been considering a movement within business education toward what is affectionately called “Evidence-Based Management” or EBM. The objectives of EBM is to help students understand the limits of our knowledge, and base knowledge on empirically based research, rather than anecdotal, intuitive gut feel.
This makes a great deal of sense. Too many business decisions are based on opinion, rather than fact. And the opinion that wins is usually the highest ranking opinion in the room. So awareness of what we know and what we don’t know could be valuable. Logic, reasoning and critical thinking are all important to understanding how things really work, rather than how we think that they work.
But therein lies the rub. Sometimes we don’t really know much about a particular subject. Especially in real life situations where there are too many variables to control for. For example, some research indicates that increase employee job satisfaction leads to increased customer satisfaction and greater profitability. That has led many companies to focus on employee satisfaction with the idea that happy employees lead to profitability. However, recent research suggests that maybe the relationship is the reverse, that is that high profits and growth lead to happy people. Maybe having a lot of profit to spend on employee programs is what is causing the happiness?
So while evidence based management is likely better than gut instinct as a decision making tool, perhaps it is only the beginning of wisdom. We have to really understand deeply what the evidence is telling us, not take it on face value. We need to use the skills of critical thinking to understand whether it applies in a particular case, and whether is really is valid. There is still a role for judgment. And learning judgment is like learning wisdom. It take time and experience.