The Tricky Balance Between Data and Decisions

I confess that I am a bit of a data geek. I am also a strong believer in gut instinct, but I think it is important to have data to confirm or challenge the direction my inner wisdom is steering me. The dilemma lies in the fact that there is so much data out there, and constantly seeking more can become a barrier . . . a delay tactic . . . in making decisions you know need to be made. How much is data is enough when it comes to making a decision? It depends.

1. How big is the risk if your gut is wrong?

Is this a “bet the farm” decision where it feels like you could be wiped out if you choose the wrong path? If such is the case, gathering data is probably wise, however gathering enough to make you 100% confident in your decision is probably never going to happen. (Is there really a decision to be made if it’s a sure thing?) Gather just enough data to directly, or sometimes indirectly, validate the direction you are going and then make a decision. You can always tweak your plan as you go.

2. Can you shrink a “big bet” into a number of “little bets”?

A big bet can feel paralyzing. There are so many unknown variables that it is easy to convince ourselves we need to wait until we have more data. But what if you instead focused on getting just enough information to take the next best step? Yes, keep the ultimate goal clearly in mind, but focus on one chunk at a time. Not only does that require less data, it positions you to know more of the variables that you need to take into consideration for the next step.

3. Remember, new paths may not have hard data.

If you are truly venturing in a new direction, there may not be directly relevant data to support the path you are proposing. In such cases, you may have to look at data differently. What are the costs to your organization if you don’t choose a new path? What information from other industries or sectors can you extrapolate to inform your decision? And remember, qualitative data is still data. Can you connect the dots, creating a compelling and logical path from A — J, even if there are not “hard numbers” to guarantee your success (spoiler alert: there is no such thing as hard numbers to guarantee your success).

Data is important. It can also bury you in minutia and paralyze you from making a decision. Leaders make decisions. And you get to decide . . . will you use data to help you or hinder you in moving your organization forward?

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