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Tap into People If You Want to Extract Meaning from Data

Executive Summary

It seems like all decision making these days is data driven. Many companies are so inundated with facts and figures that they are paralyzed, unable to find the meaning in the numbers.

  • Rishad Tobaccowala has dedicated more than two decades to helping companies realize the promise of digital transformation by first realizing the promise of people.
  • His 6 I Approach helps senior executives, board members, HR leaders, and customer advocates turn data into meaningful business outcomes.
  • At the end of the day, improving data driven decision making will come down to an organization’s willingness to change policies and protocols around collection, interpretation, and execution of and on insights.

Over the years I have learned that the best way to gain insights and extract meaning from data is to follow what I call the 6 I Approach: Interpret, Involve, Interconnect, Imagine, Iterate, and Investigate.

  1. INTERPRET THE DATA. Don’t just take all those facts and figures at face value. Sometimes, of course, they’re exactly what they seem. Other times, they can be misleading. For this reason, view ambiguous data (especially) from multiple perspectives. Develop hypotheses, search for patterns, look for outliers, create alternative scenarios to explain the information you’re receiving. Through interpretation you can enrich the data with meaning; you can identify the story it’s telling.

  2. INVOLVE DIVERSE PEOPLE. As important as your analytics people are, expand the group that examines the data. When you involve people with various skills and perspectives, you’re likely to receive a richer interpretation. The analytics people may say, “The number of followers on our site increased 15 percent in the last month.” The marketing people may say, “That increase may be due to the incredibly successful brand licensing program that launched last month.” The human resources people might say, “Every time we have a significant increase in followers like this, we have a corresponding increase in job applicants.” The importance of diverse people is shown in debacles like the Gucci Instagram ad that resembled black face or the Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner that misfired at every cultural level.

  3. INTERCONNECT TO LARGER TRENDS AND EVENTS. What does the data mean relative to an emerging trend that’s having a profound effect on your industry? How does the information you’ve gleaned relate to a competitor’s new product introduction? Making these types of connections helps you take the data one step further, determining if it’s going to have a short-term or long-term impact, if it’s suggesting the end of a trend or the beginning of a new one.

  4. IMAGINE AND INSPIRE SOLUTIONS. Too often we look at the data and allow it to set boundaries: “We can’t go into Market Z as planned because the numbers indicate sales of our category is starting to fall off.” Rather than allowing the data to limit options and actions, explore the solutions it might inspire. If the numbers show that your product category isn’t doing as well as it once did in Market Z, is there an emerging opportunity because the market still has potential and competition will be reduced because of this data?

  5. ITERATE. Data can spawn new and better data. Is there a test you might run based on the information you’ve gathered that can produce more insightful facts and figures? Can you think of fresh ways to generate feedback that might provide multiple perspectives and explain surprising, disturbing, and promising data?

  6. INVESTIGATE PEOPLE’S EXPERIENCES. In a given organization, you have hundreds or thousands of people with data-relevant insights because in the past—whether while part of your organization or with a previous employer— they experienced something applicable to the current information. For instance, someone was part of a company that experienced a huge social media spike because they ran a Super Bowl commercial that went viral. As a result, this employee can relate their experiences to the current data on a similar topic. Tapping into this by seeking out relevant employees and asking about the data may provide ideas that would not otherwise be articulated. Never forget that data tells a story beyond the facts and figures, but this story can only be told when you find ways to tease out the meaning.

Data Driven Decision Making Begins with You

Beyond questioning and exploring the data, organizations need to create policies and protocols for it. The tilt toward data wouldn’t be so harmful if companies enacted basic rules to mitigate the damage caused by overdependence. Meaning naturally flows back into an environment when companies filter all the facts, figures, and other information through a human lens.

Excerpted with permission from Restoring the Soul of Business by Rishad Tobaccowala, copyright Rishad Tobaccowala.

Bring It Home

I’ve personally struggled with reliance on data. As a content marketer and freelance writer, I spend my days dissecting research to come to conclusions that support a specific hypothesis. As more and more companies gain access to consumer data, surveys and studies are revealing important insights that are also oftentimes misconstrued or bent towards one interpretation or another. It makes it hard to know who is right and who is wrong. When have you ran into data that made you question its validity? Tell us about that time and your thoughts in the comments.

Rishad Tobaccowala

Rishad Tobaccowala is the Chief Growth Officer at Publicis Groupe, an 80,000-employee advertising and communications firm dedicated to delivering marketing and business transformation. Tobaccowala was named one of the top business leaders by BusinessWeek for his pioneering innovation and was dubbed one of five marketing innovators by TIME magazine.

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