At the time of Elvis Presley’s (alleged) death in 1977, there were 170 Elvis impersonators wandering the planet. At first glance, that number seems plenty large enough to source Elvis talent for Halloween parties, traveling road shows, bachelorette parties, and yes, Vegas weddings. Even so, since that time, the population of Elvis impersonators has grown exponentially. In 2000, it was estimated that there were 85,000 Elvis impersonators worldwide. This number is so high that it likely surpasses the populations of a wide array of “in-demand” professions such as brain surgeons, rocket scientists, and perhaps, yoga instructors. Apparently, there must be plenty of Elvis work to go around, because I rarely see The King on a street corner holding a cardboard sign which reads “Will gyrate hips for food.”
For those of you who haven’t lost interest, there is another tidbit of information you may find deeply interesting (or disturbing). Should this exponential growth continue, we can surmise that, by 2019, one out of every three people on the planet will be an Elvis impersonator, or rather, “Elvis Tribute Artist” as those in the biz prefer to be called. That’s right. Look at the guy to your left. Now look at the lady to your right. In the next dozen years or so, one of you will be undergoing a major career change.
The best news of all is that those of you who are reading this blog have a leg up on the competition. If you find that you just don’t like the way your body looks in a gaudy sequined jumpsuit, and decide to keep your corporate job, you now have some insider information that could guide your corporate marketing strategy well into the next decade.
In the corporate world, data is king (pun intended), and THIS data says to invest heavily in big Cadillacs, big jumpsuits, and fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches. It’s a can’t miss strategy!
But it’s not far from reality.
All too frequently we base business decisions on weak information, failing to realize that not all “data” is valuable. When it comes to problem solving, there is a Hierarchy of Information. At the top of the list are facts – objective data proven to be true. When trying to pinpoint the root cause of a problem, facts are critical. Unfortunately, when deadlines are fast approaching and fires need to be put out, we may not have the time or patience to track down facts. That’s when we pay tribute to Elvis and make inferences.
Inferences are not as valuable as facts, but certainly have some value. However, when we are basing our entire problem solving strategy on inferences, our vulnerability increases dramatically. Essentially, we take valid data, and compare it to our assumptions about what is real, and end up somewhere in the middle. This can lead to breakthrough thinking, but it also can lead entire companies down the wrong path. Consider the case of New Coke. Remember the Pepsi Challenge? Well, some at Coca Cola took the results of head-to-head taste tests and surmised that Pepsi was a better tasting beverage because a majority of testers preferred the taste. They neglected to identify that the taste tests merely asked people to compare beverages based on one or two sips, and not an entire bottle. Researchers have found that in head-to-head taste tests, the sweeter sample, whether a soft drink or a seasoning, is significantly more preferable. However, when tasted in larger quantities, this advantage dwindles. So, they made an inference, and also made one of the most famous marketing mistakes in recent memory.
Assumptions are even less valuable than inferences. With assumptions, we take some known factors, and blend them with some guesses, and arrive at “information.” It doesn’t take a lot of mental gymnastics to see how this can be a liability when it comes to problem solving.
Finally, we sometimes make decisions and attempt to solve problems based on the least valuable piece of information of all – guesses. We take a stab in the dark to see if we can identify root cause. While this can be fun, the odds of finding out what is at the core of our problem is pretty remote. It’s also a huge drain on your time.
The key to success is to work with as many facts as possible. So, before you start memorizing the lyrics to “Love Me Tender,” do yourself a favor and take a critical look at the data that drive your decisions. Are we making some assumptions? Have we started to accept wild guesses as truth? Are our inferences taking us too far from what is known? If so, you might find that “Elvis has left the building…”
And he has taken your customers and profits with him.