Know When to Ignore the Numbers

August 1, 2015

Rob Hamlin

As director of exhibition services for Ungerboeck Software International, Rob Hamlin draws on 25 years in sales and 10 years of event industry experience to help event professionals, exhibition organizers, associations and independent show organizers experience the value of intelligent back-end and audience-facing technology. 

I’ve written a lot lately about the importance of relying on data as a guide for decision-making. And for good reason! Organizations outside the event industry have been mining data to create hugely successful new products and services for years (think Google and Facebook).

Experts in both worlds have made it clear that they see great potential for organizers, associations and venues in data investment and analysis, suggesting there’s an opportunity for those who get in on the action early to grow their business by anywhere from 10 to 100 times its current size.

That said, I was reminded by an article in the latest issue of Convene that as important as it is, data isn’t everything.

As the author mentions, researchers in a new study of pop-culture products published in the Journal of Operations Management found that when record label executives took historical factors into account while making predictions about where a new song might enter the Top 100 chart—a prediction that determines how much blood, sweat and tears they’re willing to devote to promotion—they made considerably worse judgements than when they relied on contextual information only. In other words, when they followed their gut instincts, they got it right more often than when they pored over data about how similar artists or music have performed in the past.

It’s a great reminder that your own experience and creative instincts still count for a lot when you’re making decisions about the direction of your business. This is particularly true for a fast-paced industry like ours where so much hinges on artistic vision.

Wondering how to know when to trust your spidey-sense over the numbers? You’re not alone. I suspect that some of this ability is probably a natural result of achieving industry veteran status, but there are a few additional things that could increase your odds of getting it right when you decide to go against the grain.


One of the biggest limitations of data is also one of its greatest strengths: all of the information is based on history. As much as we can learn from the past, if it’s steering you in a direction that’s making it tough for you to stay on the leading edge, then it’s probably a good time to forge a new path! Rely on your natural networking abilities to get ahead of the trends by staying current on what’s making waves in industry news and talking to colleagues about what they’re doing, seeing and hearing.


Back to my earlier point about the outsized role of artistry in the events industry, I think another time when it might be best to trust your gut is when inspiration strikes hard. If you feel like you might be on to something exciting and new, allow yourself the creative freedom to run with it – even if the numbers say otherwise!


If you’re thinking about making a decision unsupported by data, there’s probably no more reliable reason to go for it than feedback or insight directly from past or potential attendees. Technically, you could call this a cheat, as this too could be considered “data,” but this kind of valuable information picked up from conversations or lurking in the depths of your CRM is so often overlooked as part of large-scale data analysis or strategy that it’s worth mentioning separately.

The bottom line is that the best decisions are always going to be based on a careful blend of hard data and gut instinct. Use data to educate yourself as much as possible and learn to trust yourself enough to know when to go your own way.

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