Data is not there to comfort you

If we have data on RAS (Reticular activation system) brain activity or simply, brain performance data, would that help us come up with processes to improve productivity in our workplace?

If we have data on number of meetings, will we be able to optimize the meetings?

If all employees started broadcasting the heart rates from their fit bits and smart watches, would we design an environment that makes workplace less stressful?

If we have data on everything that happens in an organization, would that enable us to design processes to organizational efficiency?

Unfortunately not.

Now think of this.

If we have data on what features of our product our customers use and want most, would that enable us to increase efficiency by only focussing on it?

If we have data on how reliable our software is, can we rally a team to improve the reliability?

If we have data on various page load times, can we make technology choices to quickly turn that around?

The answer for all the above is Yes.

See, the problem is many fold.

  1. Unlike machines, where data can be interpreted to mean only one thing, with people, it cannot be. There is an inherent bias organizations exhibit when designing processes based on surveys and results.
  2. While in the machine world, we use data to improve the life and performance of machines and consequently benefit the customers, the same approach won’t work with people. People subconsciously resist being treated like machines and you cannot used flawed data to improve their performance.
  3. Organizations have an inherent bias. With every survey we conduct, we think of our organizations as machines made of thousands of other machines (employees). While there might be a common thread connecting all (like mission, values, etc), the metrics the surveys are optimizing for is biased towards how the organization can run smoothly. Unfortunately most of the times, it has no understanding of the one thousand tiny machine like things that keep it together.
  4. There is valuable data to be collected. But that data on surface is useless, so we seldom collect it. Also, such data cannot be collected in 5 minute surveys. This data collection will be a laborious process. Data that truly digs deeper to find the unifying thread across everyone in the company and creating a structure and experience to enhance that.

We all love to be comforted. Especially, when things are not going well. In organizations, when things don’t go well, the default approach is to comfort ourselves with data that seldom aligns with the real purpose. This only creates noise in addition to wasting time.