Data gone awry, Part 2: What to do when your business data deceives you.


In my last post, I hopefully disavailed you of the notion that big data and analytics guarantee successful business decisions and outcomes. Today, I'll discuss what to do once you realize that you bet on the wrong horse.

There are many degrees of "wrong"

woman working late in officeYour organization is looking to fill a position. After careful screening, "the data" might suggest that Candidate X is a particularly good fit. The applicant is hired and is failing miserably.

What to do?

There's no one solution here. It's folly to think that all corporate positions entail the same levels of responsibility, publicity and compensation. A mid-level marketing manager is hardly the same type of duck as a C-level appointment. What's more, the consequences for a botched hire can be disastrous. Case in point: Yahoo! in 2014 fired COO Henrique de Castro. His pay for a mere 15 months of work: a mind-boggling $108 million. People immediately began to question then-new CEO Marissa Mayer's judgment.

Simon Says: Depending on the circumstances, applicable labor laws and organizational fallout, you might just have to bite the bullet and cut a check. Try to make a better decision next time, especially for senior-level jobs.

Some bells can't be unrung

If you look at the history of music, the idea of Sony's MiniDisc player seems entirely reasonable. After all, vinyl gave way to tapes which gave way to CDs. Wouldn't a smaller disc make sense?

Of course it did, but the Internet and Napster happened, obviating the need for smaller discs and physical music among all but niche collectors. While Napster quickly went poof, the Internet genie wasn't going to be put back in the bottle. Miraculously, Sony only retired MiniDiscs in 2011.

Simon Says: Realize that once-in-a-generation events can derail even intelligently conceived products and services. Try to act faster next time.

All decisions are time-sensitive

Look at your company's internal data. Buy a few analyst reports. You may realize that the market is ripe for the very product idea or launch that you're working on. In six months, you expect to dominate your market. Pop the champagne.

And then your biggest competitor releases new wares that take the world by storm. Growth is like a hockey stick. All of the marketing and buzz in the world isn't going to make a bit of difference for your organization. Employee morale plummets.

Simon Says: All available data might indicate probable success. Still, what appears to be a good, data-based decision today or tomorrow might be a terrible one in a month, quarter or year. Sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board.

The data can't tell us everthing

In my consulting career, I've attended many meetings in which people raised their voices over missed issues. As a system activation failed and all hell broke loose, tense executives would scream the question, "How could we miss this?"

Simon Says: "The data" will never reveal everything, but don't take my word for it. As Steve Jobs famously said, “It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.” 


What say you?

Learn about 5 data management best practices to help you do data right.


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.

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