Why This Blog

This is a personal blog. So it is about my personal interests and ideas.

But there is an underlying theme here. I want to explore stories and what they mean to our lives.

I believe that narrative trumps data every time. In other words, it’s narrative first, then data, every time. It is the power of stories that explains what we think, how we act and what we believe is factual. It’s not data or facts that come first, but stories.

Putting stories first would have been apostasy to me as I began my career. I went into survey research specifically because of my belief in the concept of hypothesis testing and especially Karl Popper’s idea of falsification. To me, this was all about data. But as my career progressed and as I got involved in putting data to work in a business setting, I discovered that data never top narrative. Stories always win.

I was particularly struck by my discovery of the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. I was late to their work, but it had a big impact on my thinking. Of course, nothing in Kahneman and Tversky makes even a remote suggestion that data are unimportant. But their articulation of the myriad ways in which our cognitive understanding of data is flawed or irrational showed me that data do not speak for themselves. We give voice to data, and we do so with a pattern of thinking that is best understood as a form of narrative. I don’t see cognitive biases in the work of Kahneman and Tversky. I see elements of the ways in which narratives affect our thinking and decision-making.

So that’s what I want to do with this blog. I want to think out loud about the interplay of narrative and data. The epigram for this blog is a line from my favorite poem, Corsons Inlet by A.R. Ammons. It is a poem about the ever-changing contingency of boundaries and dividing lines. “I allow myself eddies of meaning,” he wrote. Surely, that is life as we live it. I want to understand better how we find meaning in those eddies. That is ‘why this blog.’