Seinfeld, data and the other 16 percent

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It's hard to find consensus in the business world. There are many different strategies, philosophies and tactics. I would have bet, though, that all executives use data to make business decisions.

And I'd be wrong.

I cropped this infographic from ReadWrite.com:

That is, 16 percent of executives do not use data to make better business decisions. To quote Jerry Seinfeld, "Who are these people?"

I mean, I can somewhat understand entry-level and even mid-level employees ignoring data. Especially at large companies, they may not be able to move the needle very much. But executives? What are these people thinking?

I'll try to tread carefully here so I don't offend anyone, but I'd bet that those one in six are near retirement. These old school folks "run their unit the way they run their unit," to paraphrase Jack Nicholson's Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men. They don't need no stinkin' data. Never have. Never will.

The Old Guard

I can't help but think that these folks represent the diminishing old guard. A friend of mine in Las Vegas is only 25 years old and frequently goes to Google Analytics for vital insights. It's hard for me to imagine her ignoring data as she ascends the corporate ladder. In fact, she'll go further faster precisely because she speaks and thinks in terms of data.

As I look into my crystal ball for 2013 and beyond, I suspect that fewer and fewer of these executives will survive. After all, we're notoriously bad at making decisions. Ask Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast and Slow. What makes these one in six so special that they don't need data? What do they know that we don't? What are they taking? And where can I get some?

Simon Says

I can only imagine consulting at an organization run by a dataphobe. Something tells me that I wouldn't last too long. I'm not saying that data needs to drive every business decision, but how can an executive routinely ignore it?

Feedback

Seriously. I'm curious. What say you?

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About Author

Phil Simon

Author, Speaker, and Professor

Phil Simon is a keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of eight management books, most recently Analytics: The Agile Way. His ninth will be Slack For Dummies (April, 2020, Wiley) He consults organizations on matters related to strategy, data, analytics, and technology. His contributions have appeared in The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, The New York Times, and many other sites. He teaches information systems and analytics at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business (Department of Information Systems). He also runs 5marbles, an Agile software-development shop.

1 Comment

  1. Phil,

    Thanks for commenting on my piece, Gut Feel Isn't Good Enough, http://bit.ly/alla004, and leading me here.

    What bad news! And yet, I have reason to believe the picture is even worse than you think.

    Remember, what you've got in that infographic is the results of a survey. If this were behavioral data, the picture would look a lot worse. Some of those who say that data helps aren't really using data at all, others aren't using it consistently. Few are using it well.

    So, is this an old-guard problem? In my experience, while some older execs have gotten by without analytics and don't care, many others, especially in direct marketing, retail and advertising, know better. I would say that use of analytics in marketing has actually declined over the past few decades - this is not an old-guard problem that will just correct itself as a new crop of execs comes in.

    While there are showpiece organizations like Amazon, Groupon and Netflix who have built analytics into their culture from the start, many others are unaware and uninterested. And many are interested in analytics, but aren't good at it!

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