One sure way to situate a movie scene in the mid-20th century is to stage a young man holding a wrench in the act of leaning over a car engine, happily tinkering. In those days, many of the processes going on under the hood of a car were accessible to anyone willing to get their hands greasy and spend some time. My last mechanic taught himself how to fix cars in Guatemala several decades ago. Even my mom used to have a little trick she would perform under the hood (you might call it easily reversible sabotage) that let her disabuse people of the notion that women are helpless around engines.By comparison, today’s automotive systems are much more complicated, much more opaque. It’s hard even to see what’s going on or how to approach repairs without sophisticated computer diagnostic gear.
When you’re in charge of the Library of Congress, there are probably all kinds of pressing practical concerns. Daniel J. Boorstin, twelfth Librarian of Congress, appears to have made time to consider the big picture as well. He is credited with this assertion: "the biggest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance -- it is the illusion of knowledge."Consider what this could mean for your analytics data and your business. If your analytics relies on legacy spreadsheets developed over the years in various departments, if the uploading of tracking codes and classification tables into your analytics tool is done by hand, if you find that your reports aren’t always capturing the data you want due to corruptions or mis-classifications of your campaign codes, then instead of knowledge about your business, you’re likely laboring under the illusion of knowledge. That’s why you have the sense that your reports aren’t giving you the whole story. That’s why you don’t feel you can trust them.
I recently came across an idea that interested me in The Way to Design, by Steve Vassallo, award-winning designer and entrepreneur. He elaborated on a concept familiar to many engineers (and one that’s increasingly been adopted in the marketing world), that of “T-shaped” people, those who know a certain field very well and have enough understanding of adjacent disciplines to allow them to develop and launch products successfully. But Vassallo says that more is needed. In his words, “if you want to build enduring companies and really earn your seat at the table, I think you need to be π-shaped. That is, you need to have depth in both the creative and the analytical. Left- and right-brained. Empathetic and data-driven” (The Way to Design, Chapter 4). There may be certain people for whom developing strengths in more than one discipline comes easily: not just T-shaped, or even π-shaped -- picture a three-legged stool of talents. But for every person who finds this a breeze, there are probably many more people for whom one area of expertise is plenty. Given the value that such breadth can bring, Is there something that we can do in our organizations to help people get to the place where they have more than one leg to stand on?
As humans we’re good at sorting things into piles -- very young children can put all the blocks together in one pile, all the little animals together in another. It’s easy, and we can see the sense in it. Now that we’re grown up, we’re still tempted to group things together that seem similar, but sometimes it slows us down.A lot of businesses group their analytics departments with their IT -- all techies together, we think -- they’ll keep each other company. But there are some genuine costs to this simple choice: when the IT department is in charge of the analytics department, we shouldn’t be surprised if analytics begins to elevate the priorities of the IT department, at the expense of the core values of the company. With analysts under the thumb of IT, the KPIs that are being delivered are about optimizing IT processes.
As a business executive you’ve got a lot to do--your responsibilities are many and varied, and it feels important for the people around you at your company to be team players and smooth the way whenever possible. But what if rather than smoothing your way, that approach is getting in your way, or even causing you to lose your way?Here’s how things usually go: you have an idea about some information that your website can provide, so you go to your web analytics team and tell them what you need. Chances are, you’re going to get it, but maybe you shouldn’t. In order for web analytics to contribute to the core mission of your company, the thing you ought to get from your analytics team is pushback.
If you’re not hearing from your data analysts, it could be that everything is fine, your website humming along like clockwork. But that’s not really a safe assumption to make. The last time an analyst brought you news that there had been an unexpected failure in data capture, you might have been understandably frustrated, and some of that frustration might have ended up being directed at the analyst. How eager do you think that analyst now is to go looking for problems?
I’m guessing that it might have been some time since you last played musical chairs, but you remember how it works: count the number of kids, set that number of chairs, minus one, in a circle, range everyone around the chairs, and start the music. They move warily along the perimeter, sometimes hanging back, sometimes rushing forward, until the music stops. At that point there may be shrieking, jostling, possibly shoving, and then the dust settles: all the chairs are filled, and one dejected child is left standing.
Too often, the analytics professionals you hired to provide insights and analysis end up spending their days plugging up holes and cleaning up spills. They came on board ready and willing to realize their potential and contribute to the success of the venture, and instead they’re doing work that manages to swing back and forth between tedious and frantic, and is anything but fulfilling. If they could spare a few minutes to look up from all the codes, they might wonder how they got stuck.