A Letter from CSSD Lab CEO, Dr. Fernando Martel García


A 2,000 Year Old Remedy

On Friday, December 13, 1799 George Washington awoke with a severe sore throat. He was visited the next day by three doctors, who quickly prescribed bloodletting: The withdrawal of blood to restore "humoral balance". Within hours they removed half his blood. By evening, George Washington was dead.

What I find most shocking about Mr. Washington's untimely demise is how a practice so harmful to patients remained the most common surgical procedure for almost 2,000 years -- from the time of the Pharaohs, to the end of the 19th century. After all, how could consecutive generations of well-intentioned doctors across millions of cases and spanning two millennia, fail to see the harmful impact of bloodletting on patients?

Another example, one that you are very likely familiar with, is the common cold. For most people the symptoms of a cold get worse just before they get better. Yet it is precisely when symptoms are at their worst when we seek medical attention, drink vitamin C, or take that herbal supplement our colleague suggested. Observing how we get better soon afterwards, it is all too easy to conclude that our improvement was thanks to the remedy we took, our body's internal defenses be damned. Moreover, such delusions can be self-reinforcing. After all, the more you repeat the experience, the more confident you become in the effectiveness of a supposed remedy.

It turns out that accurately measuring the true impact of our actions (like bloodletting, advertising, or employee training) on outcomes we care about (like patient survival, retail foot traffic, or productivity) is a hard thing to do on the basis of day-to-day experience. This is what we at Cambridge Social Science Decision Lab, Inc. refer to as the impact attribution problem.

Why the Impact Attribution Problem Matters

The impact attribution problem is pervasive. Most organizations, including businesses, government agencies, and non-profits, are in the business of doing something to move the needle on some goal. But are these activities working? In most instances we really don't know. Even if, like Mr. Washington's doctors and the thousands of doctors before them, we think we know.

For businesses, the impact attribution problem is very costly. Consider marketing- more than $200 billion is spent each year on marketing. Yet the majority of marketers we have spoken to agree 20 to 40 percent of their expenditures are ineffective. Globally that amounts to $40-80 billion in direct waste every year, with a present value of $133-266 billion (using a 15% discount rate). This is an underestimate, for we should also consider and add the returns these wasted dollars would have generated had they been invested productively. And let's not forget the real risk of being out-marketed, out-competed, and driven out of business by competitors with less marketing waste.

The impact attribution problem is also deep. The uncertainty around impact attribution has downstream implications for budget allocations, performance pay, promotions, and new product launches among others. After all, if Mr. Washington survived bloodletting, he would have likely declared it a complete success. Maybe he'd also given a bonus and a salary raise to his doctors! When we don't know what works, organizational decision-making tends to default to authority and chance. This is hardly a recipe for consistent, predictable success.

Finally, the impact attribution problem is hard to solve. This is why social scientists like ourselves spent years studying statistics, and why pharmaceutical companies spend millions every year on scientific experiments. Spreadsheets, focus group, before vs after comparison, marketing mix or attribution models, small pilots studies, or some kinds of A/B tests just don't cut it.

The Gold Standard for Measuring The True Impact of Business Activities

At Cambridge Social Science Decision Lab, Inc. we are on a mission to bring the power of the scientific method to high school classrooms, Global 2000 boardrooms, and everywhere in between. Kids can learn science, businesses can optimize their performance, and governments and non-profits can focus on funding programs proven to work.

This is why we are building software that greatly simplifies the design and analysis of experiments. We support a Business Science ecosystem of measurement instruments, data providers, training, and other service providers.

In a Business Science ecosystem, customer-facing executives, who typically have the most thorough domain knowledge, can rigorously test their intuitions and learn what works in changing customer behavior. Experimentation should not be limited to a central business lab, or to academic researchers with pernicious incentives. We want to empower distributed customer-facing teams with the ability to test more relevant questions, and run 10x more experiments.

Fundamentally, we should not have to wait 2,000 years to dramatically improve outcomes in business, education, or health.

What We Offer

To our customers, we offer an ecosystem of Business Science software, tools, and services to help you improve your marketing efficiency, change consumer behavior, reduce the risk of new initiatives, and consistently make better decisions. With our software-enabled services, you can innovate faster, become more competitive, gain market share, and increase profits.

To our employees, we offer the opportunity to have an outsize, measurable impact in the way businesses, non-profits and government organizations operate. Also, as a small and dynamic company, you'll gain a 360-degree view of business in a very short amount of time.

To our investors, we offer a dedicated team of highly-skilled individuals with a passion for learning, and the commitment and grit to accomplish our vision.

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© 2020 by Fernando Martel García.

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