Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

 

They said it could never happen.

They said it would never happen.

They were the experts, after all. They were the ones who had seen it all in politics.

They knew that mendaciousness, windbaggery and a reluctance to answer (or even sometimes to understand) a simple policy question would never fly.

Donald Trump didn't just fly. He soared into an orbit no one could have conceived.

While he's in orbit, enter the obits.

The New York Times focuses on the political media and how it proved to be myopic in the extreme.

But isn't there another direction for the fingers of hindsight to be pointed?

There isn't a business these days that isn't in love with data.

The bigger, the better.

It's tempting, then, to look at what the data tells you and act upon it slavishly.

Some might smile, therefore, at the predicament of the previously infallible(ish) data analyst Nate Silver of the website FiveThirtyEight -- no, that's not the time most people extinguish their 420 doobies.

He had to stare into the mirror and realize that he'd entirely miscalculated the power of the Trumpenproletariat.

He had been sure that Trump was not very likely to win the Republican nomination.

He kept predicting Trump's demise. It never came.

Why was the data so inaccurate? Was the data inaccurate at all? Or did the data analysts misinterpret it?

1. Voters are more tribal than I thought.

2. GOP is weaker than I thought.

3. Media is worse than I thought.

Now there's three fingers pointing in different directions.

Blame the people. Blame the Republican Party. Blame the media.

What Silver didn't add was that real-life consumers don't do what they say they're going to do.

They don't always answer market research questions with something usually known as the truth.

Steve Jobs was fond of explaining that real people don't know what they want until you give it to them and they love it. Or not.

Real Republican voters didn't know what they really wanted, but when they saw Trump they didn't see a rationally-honed politician.

They saw their own emotions writ large.

You can decide whether those emotions are born of truth or delusion. You can decide whether those emotions deserve being committed to Donald Trump.

But as Big Data has swamped many other functions in business, Trump's triumph shows that it isn't just the data that may affect an entrepreneur's judgment.

It's the collation of that data and the analysis of that data.

Polling can be very wrong, but because it has numbers attached to it people want to believe it.

Numbers are somehow more objective than emotions.

Emotions, though, are far more powerful.

Humans, as consumers of candidates or products (oh, they're both the same thing really) react first and think a little later -- if at all.

Data analysts, on the other hand, seem to do a lot of thinking long before they do any reacting.

Or perhaps they react to patterns in numbers, rather than expressions of emotions.

"If you'd told me a year ago that Trump would be the nominee," said Silver on his site, "I'd have thought you were nuts."

People are nuts.

People make choices every day that rational observers would deem utterly, totally, irredeemably nuts.

But it's that very nuttiness that describes the limits of Big Data.

"Usually a party picks a nominee who is both reasonably 'electable' and who upholds its traditional policy positions," said Silver. "In Trump, the Republican Party may have a candidate who fails on both counts."

Usually? Why pin your analysis on "usually"?

Real consumers didn't think that way this time. Why didn't the data show that real consumers had had enough?

Sometimes it's worth learning what really matters to your customers right now.