How to Interpret Truth From Facts

When is a fact true? This is a major question we’re asking given the pre/post-election. Sometimes, the answer isn’t a simple yes it’s true or no it’s not true. Sometimes the caveat “it depends…” provides critical insight into the context, constraints, veracity and therefore, applicability of the fact.

Let’s take 2 seemingly contradictory facts we’ve heard this past year:

  • Violent crime is up
  • Violent crime is down

According to the FBI and other studies, overall violent crime in the USA is at historic lows over the past 30, 10 and 5 years.  Yet, when you examine the data in the same studies, it becomes clear both statements above are true:

  • There is a 5.5% rise is violent crime from 2015 to 2016 with half of that coming from LA and Chicago and yet, the overall rate is still at the “bottom of the nation’s 30-year downward trend.”
  • Chicago accounts for almost half the increase in murders from 2015 to 2016 with decreasing murder rates in Baltimore and Washington D.C. and New York as one of safest big cities.
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Bottom line? Both facts are true.  What you do with those facts depends on the questions you ask about those facts. What you ask with the subsequent iteration of answers and questions, is critical for making wise informed decisions.  So try asking:

  • What is the timeframe?
  • Are there outliers?
  • What did/didn’t these facts (and underlying data) take into account (what’s missing)?
  • What do these facts assume?
  • How long will these facts be true?
  • Who did the study and who paid for it?
  • What other questions arise from this fact?
  • What would it mean if this wasn't true? Who would benefit or be harmed?
  • etc.....

The ability to interpret truth from facts is a critical skill for success - in business and in life.  So starting today, or okay, tomorrow, ask questions when you're presented with facts - sales, recruiting, efficiency, inventory, market trends, anything - just start and see what you learn!