On Big Data, culture and Drucker


“Culture eats strategy for lunch.” –Peter Drucker

One of the major emphases of Too Big to Ignore is the role of organizational culture. "Doing Big Data right" involves much more than hiring data scientists, deploying non-relational databases, storing petabytes of unstructured data and dropping terms like analytics. In many instances, it involves thinking and acting differently.

But don't take my word for it. On a recent HBR post, Tom Redman writes about a recent consulting assignment:

In the unfolding data revolution, companies must develop the capabilities to experiment. But too many eschew it. This was the case in a couple of recent client engagements. In both cases, senior managers had posed a seemingly simple question. But the effort to assemble all the relevant information across their disparate data warehouses was daunting. Months went on, and the question remained unanswered. In both cases, a simple experiment, taking just a few weeks, would have filled the bill quickly, cheaply, and better than any alternative.

Now, I don't have any more particulars on Redman's engagement, but I know a thing or fifty about consulting and enterprise data management efforts. Redman's client clearly brought an old-school mind-set to the project. What's more, it chose not to listen to the very experts it contracted to solve a business problem.

Bad idea.

While I have my qualms with certain consultants, I'm also a big believer that they receive a good deal of misplaced blame for disappointing results. This certainly appears to be the case here. Many times an organization will bring in a consulting firm and ignore or actively refuse to listen to its advice. (I came to terms with this paradox a long time ago over a few many beers.)

Simon Says: Listen and Embrace New Viewpoints

Learn from the mistakes of others. Remember Drucker's quote at the beginning of this post. Applying old methods and methodologies to new data challenges and opportunities may not be the best approach.

How do you know when the old doesn't jibe with the new? There's no secret sauce, but let me pose something revolutionary: Consider listening to the very experts you've hired in the first place.


What say you?


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.

1 Comment

  1. I think much of what is wrong big "Big Data" or for that matter "Data" in general can be summed up in the two sentences:

    "X’s client clearly brought an old-school mind-set to the project. What’s more, it chose not to listen to the very experts it contracted to solve a business problem."

    Where 'X' can be anything from a contractor, consultant to the very engineers you employ who instinctively know the data.

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