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I presented in the last post that analysis is an inherent and vital aspect of human cognition and decision-making processes. The lack of analysis, or insufficient analytical rigor, represents a pervasive weakness across numerous domains, hindering effective decision-making, problem-solving, and progress. In this post, I would like to make the point that analysis is our biggest weakness, what are its implications, why it is so, and what can be done to improve the status.
Statement of Weakness
Whenever it comes to decision making, we find that some critical elements of information are missing. It has now become customary that the figures presented in the national and provincial financial budgets are immediately contested as dubious, fictitious, or at least tweaked to present a certain picture. Most of our people in power, politics, and leadership positions have no sense of data and analysis and their rhetoric is a hotchpotch of hearsay and baseless claims. We still do not know what our capacity is for producing electricity, distribution capacity, and how much we actually produce. Same holds true for agriculture output, industrial output and so on. We do have statistics departments at the center and provinces, and they must be doing some work, but it does not add to our knowledge of data and its analysis.
Private corporates are better, but marginally and not all. People heavily involved with data do not know the basic difference between data and reports. Data is just a collection of numbers, whereas a report is a presentation of data in such a form on which actions can be taken. If our performance is very poor vis-à-vis nations who have embraced analysis as the foundation, it should be understood. They have been doing it since ages, much before computer was invented. Alan Greenspan, the famous former Head of Federal Reserve in US writes in his book ‘The Age of Turbulence’ that when he started working, they used to enter all data in very large size registers, and then made analytical reports from it for decision making by the seniors.
Implications and Fallout
The biggest fallout of weak analysis is error-prone decision making; be it policies, or processes, or budgetary allocations, or projects. This is happening at all levels, be it government, public sector, or private sector. The chief ministers and ministers announce projects without any analysis done for its feasibility; it may be done later. People joke that their analysis about their own cut in the project is perfectly worked out.
Public sector organizations are never subjected to accountability; WAPDA, Railways, PIA, Pakistan Steel Mill, Road Transport companies, are just a few examples of public sector corporates perpetually causing huge loss to national exchequer. We do not even know the extent of loss; we just hear the short-lived noise about loss.
Second implication is wastage of resources both in public and private sector, though the magnitude is smaller in private sector, but it is there, nonetheless. When we talk about resources, we only think about finances, which is not correct. Time is more precious than money, people are more precious than even time.
Third implication is that we insist on repeating the same mistakes rather than correcting ourselves. Similar projects are launched by different governments with new names who meet the same fate. Over the years, we have developed conviction that the government projects are launched for some people to make money, while depriving the public from the benefits it would accrue.
Private sector is not far behind. New managers launch new projects which they had run in their previous organizations. These projects were unsuccessful there and shall be unsuccessful here because the reasons for previous failure and the justification for the new venture are not analyzed.
Probably I sound harsh, but the reality is exactly the same. Too many projects have been, are being, and shall be launched without proper analytical work. And after their failure, no analysis shall be done to find out the causes.
Possible Reasons for Weakness
There are possibly four major reasons for our weakness, or I may say aversion to analysis.
- From early childhood, we are prevented from being curious and inquisitive because the parents’ threshold for answering reaches very quickly. Due to rampant illiteracy, most parents are unable to reply to their children’s queries; they cannot even appreciate it, nor they can suggest any source which they can access. We have also developed an attitude where we scoff at inquiry and consider it waste of time. For us, the parameters have been established a fixed for everything in life, and raising questions is tantamount to challenge and rebellion, which must be discouraged and even punished. Spending our formative years in this environment, our senses of critical thinking and inquisitiveness die forever.
Chinua Achebe, the celebrated writer of Nigeria, has his classic novel title ‘Toads for Supper’ based on the local proverb which says, ‘When children eat toads for supper, it kills their appetite for meat’. This describes us exactly, we are fed so many toads throughout, we do not even know what real meat is.
- We do not even know how to collect data, and which data to collect. I had an interesting experience in a High Court recently. The honorable judge was presiding and hearing cases while the steno was taking notes manually in shorthand. This is usual practice in every country that entire proceedings of court are recorded. In developed countries, they had a steno who typed continuously, which has now been replaced with computers. We still have a steno with a small notebook taking notes manually. As if this was not enough, the steno left the court in the middle of a hearing and another one came. In about two hours, four stenos took notes, with some breaks. This shows our spirit of collecting important data.
Corporates now claim to capture all data on their ERPs and other software, but data integrity and its cleanliness is still not guaranteed.
- We have not been trained in analysis. Only a handful of students study statistics, though many others use some statistics model to analyze research data at Master and PhD level. However, it does not inculcate spirit of analysis in them. Even at PhD level, students seek the help of their supervisors to make sense of the data they have collected during research. It is not just about data. Listen to any of the hoard of pundits speaking on the television channels, and you will realize that the person has no sense of analysis, although their name tags say, ‘political analyst’ and ‘defense analyst’. Exceptions are woefully few. Writers filling the center pages of newspapers are slightly better.
When the students come to join corporates, they are lost in data because they never learned to play around with data, make various models, and do in-depth analysis. Their bosses may or may not be data savvy as well.
- We do not want to show the exact picture. Maintaining double accounting books is a norm in all organizations. It starts from the top, and we have seen in recent times that big names have been implicated in illicit practices, taking undue benefits, and hoarding huge sums of money and an array of assets. Keeping things in grey area suits us and therefore we do not want to change it at all.
Analysis encompasses a broad spectrum, including data analysis, situational analysis, financial analysis, risk analysis, and more. Each type of analysis caters to specific needs and objectives:
What Should be Done?
Several steps are recommended to break the present mold and bring the desired change.
Leveraging Technology – Technology has come to a level where it can effectively support the analytical effort. Data is stored with the help of technology and then various types of analysis may be run through technology and fine-tuned by humans. Artificial Intelligence is the newest and highly effective support. We are still severely underutilizing technology; our computers are largely glorified typewriters as majority of the staff does not know the use of Microsoft Excel®.
Training & Development – People should be trained to do analysis in their respective domains. Analyses are of multiple types, and these have relevance to various functions in an organization; some departments may need to do multiple analyses; data analysis, situation analysis, financial analysis, risk analysis, root cause analysis and so on.
Incorporating Analysis in Planning – No plans should be accepted even for presentation unless these are backed up by set of relevant sound analyses. The caution here is to ensure that analysis is not just an exercise but is deeply embedded in the planning. A product plan for example, must include market analysis, segment analysis, product analysis, corporate capability analysis, financial analysis etc.
Cultivate Culture of Curiosity and Critical Thinking – we know the background from which we come; therefore, we must collectively cultivate a culture where inquiry is encouraged, and critical thinking is promoted. It is a long effort, but it is worth it.
A lack of analysis represents a significant weakness across academia, business, policy, and everyday life. It hampers decision-making, distorts resource allocation, and impedes progress. For us and our country, this weakness is eating at the very roots of our existence. Urgent attention and steps are required to mitigate the risks associated with this serious weakness.
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