Have you ever been to a corporate training course where one assignment has been to guess the number of jelly beans in a glass jar? The “competition” begins – who will win the grand prize? Invariably you will see different approaches to tackling the problem ranging from the scientific, to the casual guess. The winner of this game is very often the person with the scientific approach – the “smart” person, who took the competition very seriously and used all his/her skill. The twist and moral of this competition that makes everyone go..aaaah in the end – is that the average of all guesses (good or bad, engaged or not) gives an even better answer than what the “smart” person came up with.
The drivers behind this “wisdom of the crowds” is entertainingly described in James Surowieckis book by the same name. Where do I want to go with this? Well, it is time to walk the talk of “democratization of data” in the corporate context. That broader access to better data leads to smarter and faster decisions and a more effective business development is something that nobody argues against – still, it is a painstakingly slow process to actually happen.
Wisdom of crowds
Imagine what happens in a world like today where information outside the corporate environment is literally available at everybodys fingertips by opening up a web browser. People are used to being informed, and having access to data. In sharp contrast – Enter the corporate environment, enter censorship, enter frustration. The majority of organizations are still today at a stage where only high level financial data is administered to an elite few on a monthly basis. The market for data visualization software like Qlik, Tableau or PowerBI is booming, but I have yet to meet ANY customer where simple, up-to-date, and interactive visualization of core business metrics is available to anybody in need of such data to become more effective. This clearly is not good for business.
Another great book on the pitfalls of human decision making is Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast…..Slow”. I would say this is a “must read” for any ambitious manager aspiring to make a difference. Kahneman makes the strongest case sofar for the importance of data-driven decision making, and why relying on heuristic decision making will lead to inefficiencies and loss.
Here is my simple approach to democratize data – for real:

  • Stop guarding your data – the wisdom of crowds will help the company get smarter
  • Stop with data mining – and let the data surface instead
  • Invest in a visualization tool that truly has the potential to be used by everyone in the organization (my outright recommendation goes to Power BI)
  • Start trusting and using the data – just relying on experience will put you at a disadvantage