Thomas Z. Ramsøy

The Commercial Validity Gap: Enthusiasm Over Evidence?

In the dynamic world of business, the rush to adopt new commercial validity practices often outpaces the rigorous evaluation of their scientific validity.

I’m going to introduce a new concept to describe this. For simplicity, I’ll call it the Commercial Validity Gap (CVG). The CVG highlights the divergence between a method’s popularity (typically in business, but often also beyond) and its empirical support.

Not surprisingly, understanding and addressing this gap is crucial for businesses aiming to build sustainable and effective strategies.

Let’s start by defining the Commercial Validity Gap (CVG), and here is one take:

The CVG emerges when commercial entities embrace practices with scant or controversial scientific backing, prioritizing allure or ease over evidence. This gap can lead to inefficiencies, wasted resources, and strategic missteps.

In this post, we’ll explore two prominent examples where the CVG is pronounced: the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Learning Styles. I could mention more, related to behavioral science, neuromarketing, facial coding, and more alluding to my general interest in this field, but let’s start here…

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

The MBTI is one of the most popular personality assessments used in corporate settings for team building and leadership development. It classifies individuals into 16 distinct personality types based on their preferences in perception and decision-making.

However, despite its widespread use, numerous studies question its reliability and validity. Critics argue that the MBTI lacks consistent scientific support to predict job performance or career success and suffers from significant test-retest inconsistencies.

The persistence of MBTI in business contexts exemplifies the CVG, revealing a preference for simplistic, typological understandings of human behavior over nuanced, scientifically validated insights.

Learning Styles

The concept of Learning Styles proposes that individuals learn best when information is presented in a manner that aligns with their preferred sensory modality, such as visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. This theory has become a staple in corporate training programs, advocating for customized content to match these styles.

However, extensive research has debunked the effectiveness of this approach, showing no significant improvement in learning outcomes when instructional methods cater to the supposed preferred learning styles.

The adherence to Learning Styles in training and development, despite clear evidence against its efficacy, serves as another stark example of the CVG in action.

Implications of the CVG

The persistence of these debunked or scientifically unsupported methods in business can have far-reaching consequences. Organizations may not only waste valuable resources but also potentially hinder their employees’ development and overall organizational performance.

The CVG prompts leaders and decision-makers to critically evaluate the tools and theories they adopt, challenging them to prioritize evidence-based practices.

So what can a business do?

Bridging the Gap

To mitigate the CVG, businesses should:

  • Foster a culture of critical evaluation, where claims about a tool’s effectiveness are routinely scrutinized and tested.
  • Promote continuous education about the scientific method and its importance in evaluating business practices.
  • Engage with academic and research institutions to stay abreast of the latest empirical findings relevant to their operations.
  • Implement pilot programs to test the efficacy of new methods in a controlled environment before wide-scale implementation.

The Commercial Validity Gap is not just an academic concern; it has practical implications for every business striving for excellence and efficiency. By recognizing and addressing this gap, companies can enhance their decision-making processes, optimize resource allocation, and genuinely support their employees’ growth and productivity.

The journey toward evidence-based practices may be challenging, but it is a necessary evolution in the maturation of business as a discipline.