Seeing Around Corners: How British Commandos Use Big Data In Everyday Decisions

It's all about meetings...


We are all very familiar with the story so far. We have lots of data, we need to find an organizational home for data, and then find the right analytical talent to uncover those golden nuggets that are going to add business value.

Whilst this is a logical path to follow, C-suite leaders are getting more and more frustrated with the slow time-to value for their business.

Having served as a British Commando Intelligence Officer for 8 years on operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East, I share in my recent book - Seeing Around Corners, how this value can be quickly unlocked by helping business teams across the organization to identify which questions they need to ask. From here, analytics can start to formulate a picture around what data is going to add value to everyday business projects and challenges.

We all have access to the data at an increasingly competitive cost. The war for talent is subsiding. So it’s through the connectivity of such large data sets and analytical talent to business questions that will unlock Big Data.

Start with business questions - not data! I talk about in my book that this presents a leadership challenge of great proportion, where teams need to focus less on execution and more towards discovery-driven leadership and where decision-making authority needs to get closer to the front line - a significant cultural challenge, but only then will the real value of Big Data will be realised at scale.

In the complex and disruptive environment that I was exposed to in my military career and the similar environment business leaders face today, foresight in the winning advantage for teams and this is why Big Data is so important to get right. It offers us an unparalleled level of granularity about our customers, clients, patients that unless connected to teams will go to waste.

There’s No Silver Bullet

Coming up with the right questions isn’t going to come from hiring top MBA students, strategy consultants or data scientists. Rather, they will come from the quality of everyday interactions and cognitive diversity in teams. Evidence now shows that teams that leverage such diversity where team members look at problems with different perspectives and process information differently solve problems faster. This was our experience on Operations in Afghanistan where Military Commanders, Cultural Experts, Political Advisors, Economists, Tribal leaders etc were all working together to identify the right questions to ask data and make decisions faced with unprecedented complexity.

In my book, I refer to this new team paradigm as “Messy Teams” -

In this environment, teams need to have a more innovative response to complexity. Teams faced with challenges such as mass industry disruption from start-ups, economic instability or political uncertainty must leverage diversity of thinking to ask the right questions

It’s about everyday interactions

When I spoke to over 2000 business leaders and observed hundreds of teams on this subject it was very clear that where business’ are going to make the fastest gains with Big Data and business value actually has nothing to do with “data”. But rather everyday interactions and meetings.

As fluffy as this sounds, it’s here where decisions are made and the battle with business and data is won or lost. For example, when did you last go to a meeting and do a Key Assumptions Check to test a data model or hypothesis? When did you last ask you team to do a quick What If? analysis to surface cognitive gaps in your plan? Or when you staged an outside-in thinking technique to surface a business silo? Here is where teams identify gaps in understanding against their problems, apply advanced analytics and pivot towards a data driven decision.

The last mile in Big Data is a decision not an infographic!

For the US and UK military on operations in 2006 in Afghanistan, such an example would be to try and understand how the enemy were receiving support from the local population using drone data, social media profiling data, financial data etc. From here we could formulate better planning decisions. But it started with identifying gaps in our understanding and a good question. We called these intelligence requirements and they constantly fed the organizational wide commitment to building situational understanding.

I speak to so many business intelligence teams and they’re not sharing intelligence. They’re just sharing information such as sales data. Intelligence must start with the business leaders desire to fill a gap in understanding of a business problem.

Enterprise software falls short here

The enterprise software market is dominated by productivity applications that help teams populate tasks and goals towards a set plan or goal. This was where competitive advantage lay in a more stable environment - and is still (kind of) relevant today. But the real magic is going to come from helping teams everywhere in your organization ask better questions and then share them across a connected ecosystem. This is a shift from “what do I need to do” towards “what do I need to know” that I refer to in my book as Discovery Driven Leadership.

This is the last mile for Big Data and where immediate value lies. Do this, and organizations of any size will unlock Big Data and See Around Corners.


Graham’s book, Seeing Around Corners: How to unlock the potential of Big Data is available here.

About author: Graham Hogg began his career as a Royal Marines Officer, specializing in intelligence. As Founder & CEO of Connectworxs, Graham is passionate about helping organizations achieve growth by creating the right data-driven culture.

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