The Bias of The Evidence-Based Approach

The evidence-based approach is the hallmark of a system of control, whose goal is to keep the status quo.

There are two types of value that can be created for organizations: direct value and indirect value.

Direct value often looks more visible, feels more tangible, and is easier to measure.

Indirect value often looks less visible, feels less tangible and is harder or more costly to measure.

The problem with an evidence-based approach is that it’s biased towards direct value, often because it’s easier to see, feel and measure.

But there’s so much in indirect values – values that may take a long time to become visible, tangible and measurable.

Can we imagine Einstein being asked to provide unambiguous evidence to his theory of relativity before he published his work? Can we imagine Van Gogh being asked to provide indisputable aesthetic evidence of his artworks before he was famous? Can we imagine Steve Jobs being asked to provide tangible evidence of iPod’s market value before its conception?

Despite its huge value in sustaining stability, the evidence-based approach is the hallmark of a system of control, whose goal is to keep the status quo.

In other words, an evidence-based approach often reinforces a status-quo-keeping power structure.

Sometimes that makes the evidence-based approach unfit for organizational transformation and innovation.

The subtlety here is that indirect value is often more related to leadership, vision and strategy, while direct value is often more related to execution, tactics and implementation.

One challenge for leadership is how they support the delivery of direct value, while at the same time justifying the effort that produces indirect value.

Whenever you heard people saying “evidence-based approach,” make sure you also look beyond the tactics, and ask how that approach supports strategy and how it affords change and transformation.


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