Monday, September 9, 2013

Taking Advantage of Data

“The most valuable commodity I know of is information.”  - Gordon Gekko, Wall Street (the movie released in 1987)

The time and resource commitments required to calculate a return on investment or determine if conference attendees would prefer a turkey or ham sandwich are much different than they were a generation ago. In fact data-crunching tools are improving at a near constant pace and every few years there are better ones. Because of this new reality the percentage of data-driven decisions we make can and should increase.

Big Important Decisions

There are numerous examples of how really important decisions are being made better and faster because of this new reality, like this TedTalk given by Joel Selanikio: The surprising seeds of a big-data revolution in healthcare, telling the fascinating story of how the introduction of Palm Pilots in 1995 began a revolution in collecting and analyzing data on important global health statistics.

Small Not-As-Important Decisions

I think we should take this new reality a step further and recognize that because the cost of data-crunching is approaching zero we should be using it all the time, for all kinds of decisions.

For example, here at Newmind our leadership team is particularly benevolent. We’ve been growing recently and needed more office space. The leadership team sent all of us this one question Google Form to get our input on what was most important to us in office space.

Because this was so quick to create and natively tied to a spreadsheet with automatic graphing of the results, finding out what would be extra motivating to Newmind’s employees and then crunching that data took less than 5 minutes from start to finish. This simplicity was the difference between our busy C-Levelers deciding to get our input vs just making an ‘executive decision.’ And the result is we all love our new space!

Why don’t we increase the number and variety of decisions we make driven by data?

  1. Perceived Cost
  2. Habit

Perceived Cost

It is easy to forget how easy data collection and analysis has become. Our past experiences lead us to believe that it will be very tedious and time consuming to first collect, then organize, and then analyze data.

‘This decision’s timeframe will become so lengthy and inefficient’ we think to ourselves. We start rationalizing that quickly making a decision with our ‘gut’ will probably be just as good anyways.

We have to catch ourselves in this moment and remind ourselves that data collection, organization, and analysis is not what it used to be.

Habitualizing Data Crunching

Our decision-making routines won’t change on their own.

We need to habitualize collecting data, analyzing data, and giving the data respect in decisions. I suggest that you treat all decisions, important and trivial, as opportunities to inculcate your selection process with a data crunching step.

Life In The New Reality

Here at Newmind we use data to make decisions as often as possible. One of the first things I was taught to do after starting here was to A/B test everything I could and improve how I did things based on the results. I liked the improvements this routine identified for me so much I’ve changed habits in my personal life and have recently data-crunched my way through buying a car and selecting a new financial institution for my family, just to give you a few examples.

Using data to inform my decisions, both big and small, has given me more confidence with what I choose. That additional confidence and the fact that my decisions, driven by data, are giving me better results is making me a happier person. Nothing but sunshine and rainbows for Michael J.

Seriously though. I challenge you to give data-crunching a try on something you otherwise wouldn’t and add to the conversation with some feedback on how it worked out. If you are not sure which data-crunching tools to use, give me or one of my Newmind teammates a shout.

Michael Jefferies is happiest when problems are being solved and life is becoming more awesome.

At Newmind, Michael consults with clients to discover their organizational objectives and works alongside them to identify, analyze, and implement technologies that can help take them there. He believes that technology is not merely a part of business, but in fact provides endless opportunities to increase fun, efficiency and profitability.