What does it mean to be data driven? Hopefully your first thought wasn’t a dashboard with pretty lines – a way to check your PTG. Being data-driven in some ways is harder than ever, not because of the the type of data or analysis needed, but because of the need to simplify the tidal waves of it coming from all spaces around us. While Business Intelligence is nothing new, we have more real inputs into our business models than before, and thanks to more accessible CRMs and so forth, more ways to pull up and look at that data for the lay worker. This is ultimately a good thing, but not so good until you really know how to use data, and that starts not by getting your degree in statistics or advanced math, but by getting in the right mindset about how you should be using data in your role.
First, a story.
Data and the Innovator’s DNA
A friend of mine recently shared with me an article in HBR’s alumni magazine dealing with the concept of innovator’s DNA in which Clay Christenssen argued that being too data driven is essentially anathema to innovation. Data, by nature, is based in the past and this limits our ability to disrupt the future if we’re too focused on it.
We then started to argue whether innovators could still be data driven, and what that meant.
Look at Wright brothers, Einstein, the Element hunters, NASA, Jobs. I could keep going. These were all heavily data driven people, and so the theory goes there must be a different ‘type’ of data-drivenness that helps innovators stand out.
I made the relatively simple hypothesis that innovators know what data to embrace and what to leave behind. Whether they do it intuitively or through extensive training, they’re able to cut through the noise to see opportunities and pull out just the right amount of context to make it seem inevitable.
Of course we could fly. Of course we didn’t need CDs, cable, or PCs. Of course there were still elements out there – we just weren’t measuring carefully.
End of story to some degree. We agreed to disagree.
Is everyone driven by data?
But here’s where the story gets interesting. When I started sharing this story around work, it resonated and spread like wildfire. There was something about the “perception of data” that struck a nerve from the folks that are knee deep day over day to the folks that need concrete analysis to help make decisions. The issues we were having was less about statistical skills and more about analytical skills, and to a greater degree the mindsets that set people up to use data in their context well.
At the heart of the issue was what did it mean to be “data driven” in a world where data and tools for analysis were so readily available.
About ten years ago the same would have been said for “tech savvy” except now it’s expected that everyone can intuitively pick up a blackberry or iPhone and get their job done. Is data the next rung on this ladder, or are we still best suited for a centralized and specialized Business Intelligence unit?
I’ll bet on the former, but know others will disagree! What’d you think?