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As we continue through our Strategic Foresight Sprint, a member-exclusive series in which we learn together about how to forecast trends before they even happen, I can’t help but notice that many associations have only been taking their data at face value. 

For years, individuals and organizations alike have failed to delve deeper or proactively search beyond face-level results. In their rush to solve problems and succeed, they've overlooked key information or focused only on the positives and successes. This leads to creating a larger set of problems down the road.

“Also called ‘survivor bias,’ this phenomenon refers to the human tendency to study successful outcomes and ignore the accompanying failures,” wrote HubSpot managing editor Meg Prater. “Because of this, we adopt opinions, structure businesses, and make decisions without examining all the data, which can easily lead to failure.”

A popular example occurred in World War II when the U.S Navy tasked mathematician Abraham Wald with determining how much armor they should place on the most damaged parts of military planes when the aircrafts returned from battle. Wald discovered the United States military had been going about this task the wrong way. Instead of placing armor where the plane took extensive damage, Wald proposed adding armor to the parts of the planes that hadn't been damaged. Why? Because it was the planes that had been shot in these undamaged areas that were unable to survive, which meant those parts of the aircrafts were more fragile. 

Using these findings, the U.S. military began to add armor to the least damaged pieces of their returned aircrafts. Guess what? More planes started returning home. 

It’s scenarios like the one above that really enforce why survival deviation is so important to keep top of mind when analyzing your association’s data. As Acosta senior vice president and Sam’s Club Team Lead Matt Martin, commented on his LinkedIn post about this topic, “Your weak points may not be your vital weak points, and that’s the real value of the post.”

Associations need to understand that in order to consistently produce successful outcomes, they must look deeper than surface level. While the biggest or best data is probably the most entertaining or exciting, overlooking all other aspects is really just leading towards failure. Look at every data point you have, and make sure your process is an unbiased one. 

Keeping survival deviation in mind through this process will help your association recognize, understand and predict a successful course of action on a consistent basis. Afterall, if Wald had not done the same, many American and allied lives would have been lost. 

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Ashley Neal
Post by Ashley Neal
December 7, 2020
Ashley is a marketing and communications professional with expertise in sales conversion, copywriting, and social media.