Familiar with the term “Big Data”? Of course, you are. It’s like Big Oil or Big Government, only more 21st-century.
Loosely translated, it means “more data than we know what to do with”. Businesses, in general, are gathering so much data on so many topics so quickly that they aren’t capable of processing all of it, let alone process it effectively. As a result, much of these data on vendors, customers, competitors, etc., aren’t receiving a first look.
There are a number of underlying causes for this, including:
- Not setting SMART objectives for the organization;
- Not knowing what the keys to success are; and
- Not focusing on priorities.
Granted, there are almost as many applications for analyzing and reporting on data as there are ways to accumulate data but none of those applications is worth its cost to the organization if top management can’t tell the number crunchers and analysts what to look for.
And this happens a lot more than you might think. How many times do you think some company’s top management is telling subordinates, on any given day, “If we don’t like what’s in the report, we’re going to throw it back at you”? Middle managers work their tails off for months, painstakingly constructing a detailed, fact-based analysis of some event, situation, or concept, only to have top management sit on the report or trash it.
Here’s a recent example: The U.S. Senate called on the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service to show a correlation between lower tax rates for the rich and economic growth. The C.R.S. reported there was no correlation but certain senators disagreed with that finding and the C.R.S. withdrew the report.
Another example, one that many of us are familiar with: People who, when their doctor tells them repeatedly, “Stop consuming mass quantities of red meat, fried food, and beer, stop smoking a couple of packs a day, and exercise”, ignore what the doctor says? (Could I have a show of hands?)
If I’d known I was going to live so long,
I’d have taken better care of myself.
(Mickey Mantle, for one)
Every media outlet screams, “Obesity is epidemic!” Roughly one-third of the US population is considered obese and the problem is growing rapidly within the under-18 population. Some scientists believe Gen-Ys and millennials will be the first generation in centuries to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Why?
We conveniently ignore the facts. We actually think we’re doing well, girth-wise. Often, we compare ourselves with others and the more we see overweight people around us, the more likely we are to consider our heavier selves acceptable. Instead of relying on facts (I’m 20 pounds heavier than last year at this time, I’m exercising less than I did before we had the kids, etc.) as a basis for corrective and preventive actions to improve our health, we ignore the warning signs.
And so it goes with business. Top management is told that sales are down 20% from last quarter but rather than:
- Consider the possibility that there are fundamental flaws in their management system; and
- Look for the root cause and corrective action;
They issue the edict that “Sales has to sell more!”, as if that will take care of everything. Instead of:
- Gathering and analyzing data;
- Continually looking for trends and anomalies in the data;
- Looking for the root (or key) cause;
- Implementing ongoing activities – corrective actions – to minimize or even prevent recurrence of the cause; and
- Following up periodically on those corrective actions to see if they’re yielding the desired results (e.g., preventing recurrence of the problem, meeting objectives) or if they need “tweaking”…
…they deal only with what appears on the surface, with no in-depth inspection, no well-thought-out plan, and unclear or inappropriate objectives.
Organizations often ignore the facts when they are unpleasant or because they aren’t compatible with their world view. When business is not open to multiple possibilities or outcomes…when they’re not looking at doing things differently…if change is inconvenient or even painful…their competition and customers are quickly and forever going to pass them by.
Ignoring the facts doesn’t make them go away. It could make your company go away, though.
- Weisman, Jonathan, “Nonpartisan Tax Report Withdrawn After GOP Protest”, NY Times, 1 Nov. 2012 – http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/02/business/questions-raised-on-withdrawal-of-congressional-research-services-report-on-tax-rates.html
- Parker-Pope, Tara, “Are Most People in Denial About Their Weight?”, NY Times Health/Science, 18 Apr. 2012 – http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/18/are-most-people-in-denial-about-their-weight/