John Hagel’s post the other day included a great little nugget:
“If executives need lots of data before they feel comfortable making a decision, chances are they will not act until it is way too late. Don’t get me wrong, data are extremely valuable. It’s just that, if we insist on too much data, we will often miss significant changes on the horizon. This isn’t just about analysis paralysis; it’s much more insidious…
Data not only draw us into the past, they also draw us into the core because the core is so well documented and analyzed relative to various edges where data are at best fragmentary and often contradictory. To avoid being blind-sided, we need to pay equal attention to stories and train ourselves to detect patterns in the stories, even if the data supporting the stories remains fragmentary. Stories are generally our first indicators that something really interesting is about to happen; something that data will only reveal to us in full force much, much later.”
As any researcher knows, the data will tell you just about whatever story you want to hear. More important than messages in the data is what’s happening right now that is not yet measurable. That in combination with stories we learn over time gives us insight into the possible answers to the questions that we might not even understand how to ask.
Here are a few questions Internet business historians might ask today:
- The banner ad made web pages profit centers and disrupted offline advertising markets. Are web services disrupting the web page model, and, if so, who made the transition to web page advertising successfully? Who failed? Why?
- The media business rewards companies that out-niche the niche. How should a company react when it knows it’s being challenged by a smaller, more nimble, more focused media property?
- The operational efficiencies enabled by the Internet created several manufacturing and distribution giants. Are there quiet giants or even not so quiet giants on the horizon that have both found and are leveraging new kinds of efficiencies?
- There are insightful leaders in any market who consistently make smart decisions. Given a particular market condition, who has proven to be successsful and what can we learn from their recent decisions?
Also implicit in Hagel’s statements is the idea of intuition. Trust in your own intuition is a key leadership skill that a lot of people are missing. Never mistake fearlessness for intuitive confidence. Fearlessness can go a long way fast…including off the cliff.