Where is the empiricism?

My father worked for IBM for a number of years.  Then he built a computer service business in Anchorage and was successful with it, using the management lessons he gained while at IBM.  To sit down and try to talk to him about decentralization, new media, and where things could be headed doesn’t get anywhere.  It’s trying to reconcile all these new theories with the old orthodox thinking of management.  People get older and they stick to their doctrines, and I think that’s fine – what they’ve seen work, worked for them.

I like reading about the new stuff, it sounds exciting and I want to understand it and keep track of the conversation.  Nassim Taleb likes to warn us, though, and tells us to keep on our toes by looking for the empirical evidence.  I don’t know if much can be produced at this point, and I realize Umair Haque just likes to think and theorize and write, but I am beginning to get tired of anecdotes and simplifications like evil and DNA.  Everytime I read DNA now my reaction is the same as if I threw my right heel down on top of my big left toe.

Things are changing, I can dig that.  But a comment on an Umair Haque post that calls him only another weatherman, or a Marc Cuban post reminding us that it’s all been said before are sobering.  The times may change, but I think the feelings stay the same.  Our fathers were just as eager and keen on the emerging trends as we are.  I think we’d do well to keep this in mind.

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5 thoughts on “Where is the empiricism?

  1. Please correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t monetization a massive barrier that much of Web 2.0 has yet to overcome? I realize that it is all relative, and the occasional success story exists… but it always seems to be in a broader focus of “Hey, look at that nifty little company breaking the mold,” not, “These guys are on to something, and it’s going to be big.”

    And certainly for all the publicity that it has received, the concept of having a remote executive assistant is beginning to seem to be a viable opportunity for mainstream consumers, but only after Tim Ferriss’ rallying behind the concept, and Thomas Friedman before him… in short, seemingly reputable sources provided some of that sorely needed empiricism.

  2. You should always be questioning people, especially the ones that make big predictions. Umair definitely has a problem acknowledging that people have non-business reasons for their business decisions.

    But dude, the reason he’s not supplying the empirical data you’re used to is because most of it doesn’t apply. For instance, how do you valuate Craiglist? Is it on revenue? I wouldn’t think so because they’re purposely not exploiting all the revenue they could potentially have – for the sake of long term sustainability. But at the same time, they’ve decimated the classifieds industry. Good vs. Evil. Umair thinking is about those very strange and very specific types of decisions and markets. Does that make sense?

    Do you want empirics for Tucker’s messageboard? I’m not joking, it makes less than $1,000 a month. Without it though, he wouldn’t have a bestselling book or be making a movie. Or my site, my traffic is actually really low. So you could try to compare it empirically with other sites and decide how important or valuable it is. But you’d be missing the fact that I’ve been fortunate enough to make a name for myself in a very hard to reach demographic. One that people spend tons of money to try to get at.

    So yes, empirical data is important. If you look for it in the right cases – Wikipedia, Craigslist, MySQL, a few of Google’s programs, and so on – there’s plenty of it.

  3. Maybe I am looking at things out of context. Part of the question I was getting at is “what can I show my father to get him to understand?” And he’s a common sense smart kind of guy.

    But I’m still learning it myself. I am digesting your post…

  4. hi guys.

    i talk about “evidence” in every post i write. so let’s discuss it – because you’re clearly not seeing it.

    for example, my post today about the ongoing meltdown of the economy is one gigantic discussion of data about value destruction.

    or when i say starbucks has destroyed value because of stale dna, that’s also a statement rooted in evidence (ie, check the share price).

    here’s the point. good, evil, etc, aren’t simplifications. building real businesses around them is the challenge of the next decade.

    there will be quant evidence when they *are* built, and we can compare many of them to one another statistically. but if you want to know *how* to build them, you need to begin with logic that’s a bit less statistical.

    that relates to taleb’s point: the assumptions we make about what constitutes evidence in the first place are what limit our thinking.

    what can you show your dad to make him understand? kiva, threadless, last.fm, grameen, take your pick.

    1. God, it is funny to come back to things like this and really understand them. It’s like I didn’t even read this before.

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