As you read this issue, you’ll notice that most of the articles emphasize quantitative measurement – of work, time, output, cost, all the factors that affect what industries call productivity, in turn a crucial determinant of whether you stay in business. Fulfillment, grounded as it is in physical reality, is fortunate in that it can draw upon engineered standards or can create internal measures based on meticulous observation. But watch out for “research” generated by consulting firms and other agencies eager for publicity. If you take their numbers too seriously and get caught up in growth hysteria, chances are you’ll not only fail to meet those ambitious forecasts but jeopardize the stable business you already have.
About a year or so ago, when dot-com dizziness was still at its height, such cyber pundits as Forrester Research and Jupiter Communications admitted in a New York Times Magazine article that their predictions about e-commerce growth were “nothing but ballpark estimates.” For instance, to arrive at their conclusion that American consumers will spend $78 billion online in 2003, analysts at Jupiter mixed data from telephone surveys, interviews, retail market size estimates, and historical growth rates from other retail sectors, then “triangulated” the findings to serve up that appetizing figure. An even more frightening revelation came from Jupiter’s head of data research. If the results of a survey looked absurd, he said, the company would retool score cards until the numbers did “make sense.”
Those of us who took statistics courses in college remember the rigors of hypothesis construction, testing for validity and reliability, and assessing levels of significance. In one of my old texts, a gem of a book titled How to Read Research and Understand It, author Paul D. Leedy points out that a reader of research has “every right to know” the precise methodology used to collect, interpret, and present the data, a vital element of “the structural framework which . . . gives validity to the research report.”
Using the scientific method may seem old-fashioned, but if you don’t, look what you get – research like the following, sent to me by the handlers of filmmaker and Elvis fan John Paget: Apparently, when the King died in 1977, an estimated 35 impersonators paid tribute to him. A decade later there were over 1,000 Elvis look-alikes, and by 1997, more than ten times that number. If you compare this with world growth rates, by the year 2020 one out of every three people on the planet will be an Elvis impersonator.