Recently I have come across two publications that suggest our fascination with managing by the numbers may be out getting out of control. One is an essay in LinkedIn Pulse by Panera CEO Ron Shaich bluntly titled “Stop Managing from the Spreadsheet” and the other an advertisement by Carahsoft Technology for a webinar on “Breaking the Storage-Focused Mindset with Information Governance.” Apparently data hoarding is becoming such a serious disease that “information governance” will be needed to cure or at least control it. The theme of both pieces is that it is now so easy to gather and store data that the data itself can be overwhelming, not only for an organization’s data systems but for its decision makers as well.
Yes, we need to use an adequate amount of data to inform decision-making. Otherwise, we end up making ill-informed decisions that do not produce the results we intend. Hiring on the basis of a strong interview minus a careful look at past performance is often the wide road to regret, as I have learned. And there is no doubt that research into masses of data can produce powerful results, as we see in modern physics, where previously unkown building blocks of our universe are now being discovered through analysis of massive amounts of data by extremely powerful computers, and in modern medicine, where a careful look at statistics pointed to the connection between smoking and serious illness. Without the data our modern world, usually for the better and sometimes for the worse, would be impossible.
Yet while analysis of this data is often necessary for making good decisons, when it comes to charting a way forward the data will not tell us what to do. At that point our values, our sense of what is possible, and even our reading of how much energy we believe we can bring to the issue all affect the decisions we make. Every decision also contains a level of uncertainty; every decision is to some extent a leap of faith, even if the leap is little more than the belief the sun will rise tomorrow. Making other-than-routine decisions is a little scary, sometimes more than a little. Not surprisingly, there are managers and so-called “decision-makers” that are so lost in the data that they miss the big picture, miss the best time to be making key decisions, and miss unexpected opportunities. They think they are hard at work tilling the soil, but the harvest never comes.