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Converting 'Data Haters' to Data-Driven Insight

Are data haters really that negative in data-driven cultures?

6Oct

In a recent survey by SAP it was identified that 91.9% of people are data lovers. Plenty of reasons were cited for this, but the most prominent ones were that data allowed them to pinpoint new opportunities whilst also equipping them to make more informed decisions.

Having a mere 8.1% of participants hating data may not sound like a lot, but rest assured this minority can act as the apparent voice of reason whenever a new business venture is discussed. They can put doubt in the minds of their data savvy colleagues when avenues for investment are identified and can delay proposals from reaching the market. On the other hand, they also act as a welcome wake up call for data enthusiasts that remain adamant that data can do no wrong. Data haters prefer to rely on initiative rather than data, and whilst this is admirable, overlooking data and ignoring it as if it weren’t there can throw up a number of problems.

I think the underlying message is that it isn’t a question of discouraging the so-called data haters from using their initiative, but more a question of encouraging them to supplement their initiative with data. The thing for data haters is that most companies would prefer it if it were the other way round, because that’s the essence of a data driven culture.

This divide can easily be appropriated to sport – Southampton dived right in at the deep end in 2005 when they hired a performance analyst from Prozone to aid their then manager, Harry Redknapp. The anecdote goes that after losing 3-2 to Luton Town, Redknapp turned to the analyst and said; ‘I’ll tell you what, next week, why don’t we get your computer to play against their computer and see who wins?”. Almost ten years later, and analytics is used by every top-flight football team, to great success.

Maybe data haters, like Harry Redknapp,had a similarly disappointing experience with data, leaving its reputation tarnished within their minds. However, it’s imperative now that, where applicable, data is used to at least supplement important decisions.

In the SAP survey, the biggest reason for people not liking data is that they found it confusing. It’s fair to say that most workers will not have a specific mathematical background that puts them in the position to make sense of a disaggregated data set. This is where visualization has to play a prominent role, as people want data to be presented to them in a clear and concise manner. The message for companies then, is to make data presentable and readable so that everyone can leverage insights from it.

“I feel that focusing in numbers and statistics creates tunnel vision. Understanding the bigger picture is more important looking at qualitative rather than quantitative appreciating the richness of particular circumstance”

Companies that solely concentrate on data are at risk of ‘tunnel vision’. Data can be misinterpreted and even inaccurate, meaning that being overly reliant on it is not just risky but a little naïve. But in data driven cultures, data will always be the headlining act – with initiative its support. In effect, initiative warms up the crowd whilst data drives it home, which is why it’s so important to convert data haters.

Converting data haters is a process. Success is a function of success and as projects and operations are improved through data, it’s likely that the remaining 8.1% will get on board. We sometimes forget that data isn’t something that every company does well; it’s still a relatively new phenomena. Once everyone has their data endeavors running smoothly however, companies will hope that the naysayers will slowly become data lovers.

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