In Defense of Uncommon Sense

Monday, March 25, 2019

By Behzad Rassuli, senior vice president, strategic development, Auto Care Association

On the spectrum of “feel” vs “facts,” I lean heavily toward the tangible. Feel is based on inputs that are often more personal and difficult to communicate, making them challenging around which to gather consensus. Facts, on the other hand, are usually data points that individuals can point to and agree on to make collective decisions. But that doesn’t mean only one is right – both sides of the spectrum have a place in decision making, and our challenge, especially when making big decisions, is to encourage that mental tug-of-war to ensure we use data to agree on the facts but allow for feel to challenge our assumptions. Ideally, this leads us to uncover the story the data isn’t telling us.

Recently, I came across an inspiring post on LinkedIn that really made me pause and think about how many decisions we make based on the data we see. Whether it’s in business or personal life, data-based decision making often takes the front seat by default, whether we realize it or not. Here’s the CliffsNotes version of the post:

“During WWII, the Navy tried to determine where they needed to armor their aircraft to ensure they came back home. They ran an analysis of where planes had been shot in all that returned and found that the planes were being shot in the wingtips, the central body, and the elevators, so it seemed obvious that was where more armor was needed.”

It’s Only Logical

Let’s stop here for a moment. This seems pretty logical, right? They took a detailed analysis of where the returning planes were shot in order to come to a conclusion based on data. Great! However…

“A statistician thought they should better armor the nose area, engines and mid-body, which is not where the planes were being shot.”

Wait a second. The data is pretty clear here. We have evidence that planes are predominantly being shot in specific areas, so we should take steps to further protect those areas, right? The statistician’s recommendation is contrary to the data and could be considered wasteful or outright wrong. Why was his recommendation different?

Uncommon Sense

“The statistician realized what the others didn’t. What the Navy thought it had done was analyze where aircraft were suffering the most damage. What they had actually done was analyze where aircraft could suffer the most damage without catastrophic failure. What wasn’t analyzed? All the planes that had been shot in those places and crashed. They weren’t looking at the whole sample set, only the survivors.”

Wow. Did you see this immediately? Or did your mindset evolve when you saw the statistician’s perspective? Our initial reaction may have been the same as the Navy – we are all looking at the same data, so it’s reasonable we all come to the same conclusion. The lesson from this exercise (and thank you to Alan O’Neill for sharing this) is simple:

“Always challenge your data sets and consider more angles than what is immediately common sense.”

Facts to Support the Feels

Here at the Auto Care Association, we rely heavily on data to make sure our products and services are successful at supporting the industry. This is no different than the way that you and your businesses operate. You need to use data, including the “missing” data to make those strategic decisions that drive your bottom line.

This is exactly why we launched our newest tool, the Demand Index – so that you not only have a sense of how you’re performing based on the data you can see, but you can also now see the missing data, which is how you’re performing against the market.

Check Your Blind Spots

It’s easy to rely on the data we are used to seeing – the same dashboards, the same metrics and the same KPIs. Just like driving a car, we are always looking forward and have a broad, but incomplete field of vision – including some mirrors with a rear view. We have blind spots, but we know they are there and get used to driving with them. But every so often, we should challenge our inputs and current field of vision to ask ourselves – is there data we are missing? Is there something I’m not seeing? Is the absence of the data, data itself?

At AAPEX 2019, challenge your data sets and your thinking. Take the time to explore those AAPEXedu sessions which address trends and new data. Then ask the questions for your business:

  • What’s missing?
  • Are there additional angles we should be considering?
  • Is this common sense?
  • Is this too common sense?

If everyone is coming to the same conclusion with the same data, maybe you can be the person to find what’s missing. Sometimes, the absence of data can tell you a lot more.

To register for AAPEX 2019, visit

Behzad Rassuli is the senior vice president of the strategic development department at the Auto Care Association, which encompasses the association’s market intelligence, data innovation, community engagement, membership, marketing, and communications departments. In his current role, Rassuli is responsible for growing the association’s profile and influence in the market, evolving the membership value proposition and creating industry-leading research products.