Data Doesn't Equal Meaning

Data is a wonderful thing. From "big data" to talk about the "data driven" life, it's a fascinating time where we're all figuring out what data we really want and need, how much of it, and when. And as a business owner, you've got some powerful, affordable tools at your disposal.What's easy to forget is that data itself has no inherent meaning. It's there to tell us about something that has meaning, and it can do that well. But at worst (and far more commonly), it's a trap to avoid the harder, more painful work of growing as a leader or manager. And when you ignore that work, the data will tell you that too, but it will usually be too late.

Another way to say it is that while data can help you measure how you're doing, and is an essential tool to figure out where to put precious resources on what to do next, it can never substitute for the hard work of figuring out why you're doing that thing in the first place. Data can't tell us what makes us human, what drives you personally, or why your customers feel what they feel.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't track all kinds of data across your business — you absolutely should. If you can measure it, then you can test, refine and improve it. Collecting "clean" data and analyzing it the right way is part of responsible business management, and there's no excuse for not doing it.

And, working on real business transformation requires you to look in places that data can't reach.

So, collect and analyze data - lots of it - about customer satisfaction, website conversions, budget variances. You need it all. Just don't assume you have to "do" something with every piece of data you find. Sometimes you should do something with it. But most of the time, you should let it do something to you. Let your data "infiltrate" your normal ways of thinking about things. Let it stoke your curiosity, undermine yesterday's assumptions, and make room for something new to emerge. It will.

Let data serve you, not the other way around. Because it can and should change the way you do business. But it will never change the why.

Topics: Strategic Planning, Leadership, Values

Jonathan Raymond

Written by Jonathan Raymond

Jonathan was a frequent contributor to the EMyth blog from 2011-2015. His articles focus on marketing, branding, and organizational culture.

See all of Jonathan's posts.