How I Stopped Worrying And Found Balance In Big Data

Author

Chris Myers, Contributor

December 15, 2015

One of my favorite quotes is W. Edwards Deming’s “In God we trust…All others must bring data.”  For those that aren’t familiar, Demings was a management consultant who helped Japanese industry get back on its feet in the aftermath of World War II by introducing a revolutionary, data-driven approach to business. The phrase always makes me chuckle because it perfectly encapsulates what I deal with on a near-daily basis as the CEO of BodeTree.

I’ve found that when it comes to partnerships and business development opportunities, everyone wants to de-risk situations to the best of their abilities. More often than not, that means building a comprehensive business case with data to back up all of the assumptions about how the business will perform. Over the past five years, I’ve been on both sides of the data equation. Throughout my journey, my views on the role of data inside of an organization have evolved, and I’ve learned to embrace a balanced approach to data-driven decision making that honors both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the business.

Data as a crutch

When we first launched BodeTree nearly five years ago, all of our prospective partners wanted hard data to help them make a decision about whether or not to proceed with us. They wanted to know exactly how the product would be received by potential users, how it would be utilized, and how much revenue the partnership would generate for their company. All of these were valid questions, but at the time we simply didn’t know the answers. We were early on in the process and hadn’t been able to prove out our assumptions at scale. It was a frustrating time for our team—how could we get the data we needed to prove out our premise if no one gave us a chance?

This Catch-22 scenario led me to develop a certain bitterness towards the concept of big data. For me, reliance on data alone was little more than a crutch for individuals who lacked vision. We were forced to slog it out on our own for a time, winning small battles here and there, but ultimately doing whatever we could to win over users. It was only after we managed to collect a meaningful set of data that I began to understand its importance. Many of the original assumptions we held proved to be inaccurate, and we would never have recognized that fact if we hadn’t analyzed the data. As it turns out, data wasn’t a crutch, it was a vital part of the overall planning process. My frustration was not with the people asking for data, but with my inability to produce that data as early or easily as I wanted.

This Catch-22 scenario led me to develop a certain bitterness towards the concept of big data. For me, reliance on data alone was little more than a crutch for individuals who lacked vision. We were forced to slog it out on our own for a time, winning small battles here and there, but ultimately doing whatever we could to win over users. It was only after we managed to collect a meaningful set of data that I began to understand its importance. Many of the original assumptions we held proved to be inaccurate, and we would never have recognized that fact if we hadn’t analyzed the data. As it turns out, data wasn’t a crutch, it was a vital part of the overall planning process. My frustration was not with the people asking for data, but with my inability to produce that data as early or easily as I wanted.

Innovation means accepting uncertainty

Still, if you’re building an innovative, strategically differentiated product or company, you won’t have enough data to de-risk the entire concept for partners early on. That’s where I think an over-reliance on data can be problematic. Many of our partners want the best of both worlds, seeking innovation and strategic differentiation while having absolute certainty about how it will work out. Unfortunately, those two things are mutually exclusive. After running into this conundrum time and time again, we came to learn that intuition was sometimes the most important driver for strategically important decisions. Big data cannot replace intuition; instead, it exists to compliment it and hold it accountable to reality. It can be relied upon to  make highly necessary, tactical decisions to help you realize your long-term vision, but it should never be allowed to stand in the way of innovation. If you’re seeking certainty in every decision you make, you’ll almost always miss out on transformative opportunities.

Finding a balanced approach

Balance seems to be an ongoing theme of mine as of late, perhaps because there are few things in life as important as seeking balance. Today’s world is full of binaries—in politics, you are either right or left, and in business, you are a data fanatic or an intuitive decision-maker—and few gray areas remain. However, when we step back and rethink our challenges through a balanced lens, the solutions become instantly clear. Combining entrepreneurial intuition with concrete data analysis can propel businesses forward while grounding progress in reality. In short, I’ve learned that leaders should not look to data alone for answers but rather use it to broaden our perspective and challenge previously held beliefs.

This article was written by Chris Myers from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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