Big Data? Beware Of The Rabbit Hole

Big companies are always looking for ways to develop great teams and ours was no different.  The latest fad was for everyone in the C-Suite to take a psychological exam which would assess each team members strengths and weaknesses.  The goal was to create teams whose patterns of strengths and weaknesses could be blended to create exceptional synergy.  Our facilitator was reviewing the results with my team and said he noticed a peculiar strength pattern for each of us.  We were a high performing team, and we couldn’t wait to hear what this strength was.  As it turns out, each of us scored very high on an “analytical” pattern as a key strength.  It fit with my experience, as we were a very data driven team.  Unfortunately, he further pointed out there was one little problem with this.  While “analytical” can be a great individual characteristic to possess, it can be a significant weakness when every one on the team possessed this as a strength.  Even if everyone on the team is not strong along the analytical dimension, if the more powerful members of the team are strong on this dimension, it can be a detriment to team performance.

People who are analytical tend to love data, almost to a fault.  The problem is we tend to believe if some data is good, more data is better and big data is best of all.  Faced with making a decision or requesting more data and more data analysis, we will often defer to seeking out more data.  The bigger the data, the bigger the temptation.  While more data can be helpful, there are many times when the need to see more data gets in the way of what is really needed, and that is decision making.  At some point, a decision needs to be made with what ever data you have, and the quest for more data becomes an obstacle to decision making.  It is often referred to as paralysis by analysis.  Fortunately there are a few things an individual and a team can do to prevent this from occurring, or mitigate its impact when it is happening.

The first step to avoiding it is, to recognize when either you or your team is susceptible to it.  If you or your team loves data, then you are susceptible to it.  Don’t try to analyze it, (though you will be tempted to do just that) accept it.  Remember, it is a strength and needs to be used when needed.  The next step is to determine a deadline for any decision the team must make prior to reviewing the data.  This must include the scope and any deliverables for the decision.  Following this, someone from the team must be assigned the job of holding the group accountable for making the decision based on the agreed upon scope and timeline.  This person is responsible for making the group aware when it is venturing down the rabbit hole of the need for more data, when really what is needed is a decision with the current data. Just like in Alice in Wonderland, the rabbit hole can be disorienting, and so can a deeper dive into data.  Big data and even little data can be a great thing, except when it gets in the way of decision making.


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