The headline was an impulse thing. In a blog last winter I wanted to make the point that even with the best data and the best algorithms people make bad decisions.
The headline, Analytics Won’t Cure Stupidity , felt harsh but it seemed to fit the blog, which had been spawned by some A2 community discussions about the use of analytics by pro sports teams that still rank as perennial losers. Someone out on the Internet must have liked it because that blog keeps generating pageviews each month.
That same headline resurfaced when I solicited reader suggestions last month for a new slogan for analytics professionals. We listed some of those suggestions in our December Quickpoll Pick a Slogan for Analytics Pros . With the month almost over, the "stupidity" angle is the top choice among voters.
Our polls aren’t meant to be scientific, and the sample size is pretty small. However, if you pair the results with the murmur that we hear from analytics professionals, it’s clear that a lot of those pros feel the business side — up to the CEO — don’t listen to what the data can tell them.
I don’t want to classify executive teams and business leaders in general as being dumb. Yes, there are some who should know better and still stubbornly ignore the work of analysts. Some others actually over-rely on data and read too much into it.
Turning back to sports, my favorite baseball team, the Boston Red Sox, has won three World Series titles with the help of data analysts, but they have also made some horrible decisions that led them to last place finishes in three of the past four years. Their executives read what they wanted to see in the data in player selection, and they were very wrong.
So, it’s apparent that business leaders need a bit more education when it comes to analytics. They need to understand what data can do for them, and what data cannot do.
I wonder who can deliver that education. I’ve got it, the analytics team can do it!
One thing that all the talk about big data, data-driven decision making, and digital business has done is to make business leaders aware that data is out there, and analytics pros have a window of opportunity while that awareness is fresh in the leaders’ minds.
I suggest that 2016 is a great time for analytics pros to become leaders in their own way, as teachers.
The initiative can start with some informal presentations to business leaders. Find a business manager who has had a good experience with the analytics team, and ask them to help set up a lunch meeting with a few of their peers in other groups so that the analytics team can explain what they did for that first friendly business leader, and what data might tell them about their operations. Do a handful of these meetings and you might get a few dozen virtual analytics fans in the business units, which is something we discussed in our recent All Analytics Academy on building an analytics team.
While you are doing this type of outreach, take a close look at how you are communicating data results to the business. Are you "telling a story" with data or doing a data sump on the managers? Are you exploring the options offered by new visualization tools, including tools that allow business leaders to do more of their own queries rather than relying on reports? Are you spending more time boring business leaders with your brilliant math and less time showing them the results? Are you using data sources that managers can trust?
Two final points. First, one of the most important things to do is to ask business leaders what problems they most need to solve. That last point is about relationship building, because nothing builds a good relationship like being willing to listen. Second, don’t get frustrated. Make hay with the business leaders who "get it" and do what you can to work with those who don’t. You’re only human.
Share a New Year’s resolution? What would you like to do better in working with business unit leaders?