Data is Worthless if You Don’t Communicate It

Tom Davenport with the Harvard Business Review wrote a brief article recently on data collection and the erroneous idea that collecting it is a value unto itself.  Here is an excerpt:

There is a pressing need for more business people who can think quantitatively and make decisions based on data and analysis, and business people who can do so will become increasingly valuable. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report on big data, we’ll need over 1.5 million more data-savvy managers to take advantage of all the data we generate.

But to borrow a phrase from Professor Xiao-Li Meng — formerly the Chair of the Statistics Department at Harvard and now Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences — you don’t need to become a winemaker to become a wine connoisseur. Managers do not need to become quant jocks. But to fill the alarming need highlighted in the McKinsey report, most do need to become better consumers of data, with a better appreciation of quantitative analysis and — just as important — an ability to communicate what the numbers mean.

Too many managers are, with the help of their analyst colleagues, simply compiling vast databases of information that never see the light of day, or that only get disseminated in auto-generated business intelligence reports. As a manager, it’s not your job to crunch the numbers; but — as Jinho Kim and I discuss in more detail in Keeping Up with the Quants — it is your job to communicate them. Never make the mistake of assuming that the results will “speak for themselves.”

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eVo loves this article because it suggests that you know where you are and where you want to go before jumping into the ocean of data available today.  Too often we collect data on where we think we want to go before analyzing the problem (i.e., where we are).  Albert Einstein made it clear that his process for innovative thinking was to recognize the issue to be addressed, come up with a theory, and then look to prove or disprove it.  Not only is it simpler, but it takes less time and less data.  All of which allows for a focus on communicating the value of the data collected.  This is especially necessary today with available data increasing at an exponential rate.


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