Corporate Culture Dictates Big Data Value

All the data and all the tech in all the world will not dispense a single, solitary insight. The most amazing algorithms, APIs, and dashboards will never deliver a new realization. That’s what the human mind is for.


in•sight, noun: the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing. (Google definition)

Insight is the fusing together of disparate knowledge in a new way and leads to a new comprehension. When applied to your business or your marketplace, it might be about customers, products, competitors… or even how many items to put into your listicles.

What matters is that your new idea can have a significant impact on reaching your organization’s goals. Ideas are a dime a dozen, so this great, new idea of yours must be:

  • Significantly better than others
  • Politically correct
  • Affordable
  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Insights do not pop out of spreadsheet, dashboards, or multi-dimensional visualizations. They come from asking really good questions.

“Where do ideas come from? From looking at one thing and seeing another.” – Saul Bass

The seed of every insight is in the question posed.

Does varying advertising frequency improve response? Does a faster loading page impact conversion? Does anticipating which of our customers are going to churn and serving custom content increase customer retention and satisfaction? Which of the above has the biggest impact on customer lifetime value?

Each of these questions is based on an hypothesis that we can improve, impact, or increase something… but we need verification. This is when it’s time to harvest some data and start building models.

But there is an inherent, unbaselinable flaw in the creation of those questions. The questions an analyst is called upon to answer is heavily influenced (to the point of dictation) by corporate culture.

Culture Clash

While you cannot manage what you do not measure (occasionally attributed to Peter Drucker) it is also true that you can expect what you inspect (W. Edwards Deming). If you don’t measure it, you’re toast. If you do measure it, then an assumption was made about why it’s important enough to measure.

While we like to believe we are measuring only important stuff, we really only measure what our corporate culture tells us is important.

Consider the contact center. Either your company is dedicated to providing the most efficient call center service possible and measures time to resolution and calls per service representative per hour, or it is dedicated to customer experience and measures customer satisfaction.

Even if you work someplace that values efficiency and customer delight, managers are typically paid their bonus on one or the other. The decision about compensation is driven by corporate culture, which also influences the type of questions an analyst is likely to dream up when facing a ginormous pile of data.

And once you understand that insights depend on questions and questions are driven by culture, you can become a change agent and deliver culturally unique insights to alter what is actionable at your organization. Just start asking really good questions.

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