When the Data Is Not Enough


By Christo Lute, Director of Advanced Analytics,
Analytics Guild

Sometimes it doesn’t matter what data you have, how good your data is, or how hard you’ve worked on that data. Sometimes, you’ll have twenty slides of information showing why your boss or customer or partner needs to make a particular decision with gorgeous graphs that you poured your fullest creative heart into, Monte Carlo simulations of every risk and outcome, and arguments to back up every hypothesis you tested—and it still won’t matter. Instead of agreement and praise, you will encounter push back, counter arguments, and quibbling over insignificant details. Instead of analytical thinking, you will encounter rhetoric, emotion, or social politics. 

Sometimes the data isn’t enough.

When that time comes, there are two options.

We can choose to throw our hands up, choose to blame our boss or partner or customer for not understanding, for being too focused on the wrong things, too dense, too idealistic. And when things go to hell because they didn’t make the right decision, we get to keep our pride and say “I told you so” as the project crumples around us. 


Or we can choose a different road: the road less traveled, the dangerous road of meaningful conflict. We can press into the friction, into the conflict, and not in a combative, “us-versus-them” way, but in such a way that we treat conflict as a means to talk about the things that really matter to both parties. 

Sometimes a decision is not about the data; sometimes it’s about fear. Sometimes a decision is about holding true to values. Sometimes a decision is not about taking the least risky route because sometimes the safe route is boring and safety can grind your soul down.

Once we dig in and start really saying what we mean and what we care about, we can find direction. Then we’ll know where to point the ship, which path to take, what goals are in line with our values. In order to do this, you must ask quiet, curious questions. You must ask your customer what they fear losing. You must ask your boss what principles they feel they should follow. You must understand the risks worth embracing and risks worth rejecting.

And it just so happens that once you ask these questions, once you know where you’re headed, whether it’s toward new markets or more customers or simply maximizing profits with current resources, that’s when data matters.