Winning with Data

Summary Written by Anand Thaker
“The greatest enemy of business progress is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”

- Stephen Hawking, Winning with Data, page 8

The Big Idea

Data Democratization

"When we say data-driven, we're talking about companies that operationalize data….We were talking about workers who wake up every morning and use data to tune their actions throughout the day."- Winning with Data, page 37                                    

The internet has enabled so many more people to share, collaborate and innovate.  Data democratization, a common theme throughout the book, realizes the same broad opportunities for insights, decision making and innovation.  

Data democratization means breaking down various silos and having access to data when and where it is needed at any given moment by anyone. Cyber security, a valid concern in data access, does require someone dedicated to execute proper governance without stifling potential insights. The authors describe this as an operational necessity to invest in building an asset for any organization. Empowering more people increases the chance for more revenue opportunities.

Insight #1

Recruit and Shape Your People

"We learn only when we have both the curiosity to ask a question and the tools to answer it. To change our cultures, we should celebrate and reward curiosity."- Winning with Data, page 71

Curiosity is a trait found in everyone within a data-driven organization. These are the people who are willing to experiment and investigate. Enabling these people with tools and encouragement for their curiosity increases the overall learning of a team. Coupled with that curious nature, having people who are open to asking the right questions improves an organization’s learning about itself and the possibilities for growth.

These attributes remove the common business fallacy stemming from a ‘HiPPO’ (high paid person’s opinion) where decisions are dictated by seniority without evidence or consideration of facts. As the authors bring to light, data not only serves to provide better decision making for anyone at any level, but making the data work for you can enhance a company’s ability to adapt and thrive.

One of the most interesting concepts discussed in the book is the use of ‘gemba’, Japanese for ‘the real place.’ In the business context, gemba refers to observing and executing on continuous improvement practices where ‘value is created.’ For manufacturing, it is the factory floor. Gemba is one of the core concepts that elevated Toyota to becoming a leader in manufacturing. For SaaS based technology organizations, value is created within the data. The concept drives consistency, reliability and accuracy across teams in an organization. Support teams structured under gemba can now effectively deliver data education and training for groups as well as aggregate the needs of the entire organization.

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Insight #2

Understand and Manage Data Bias

"...Illusion of validity fools us into believing that gathering more data will help us predict the future better."- Winning with Data, page 99

It’s in our nature to have data biases. Gaining awareness training is imperative combat them. The book outlines some of the most common in data literacy:

  • Survivorship – Survivorship bias materializes when we omit certain data from our analysis. The remaining data, containing the survivors, leads us to draw a faulty conclusion.
  • Correlation vs. Causation – While data may move in tandem (correlation), both data sets may not truly explain the effect of one another.
  • Anchoring – Anchoring bias occurs when you are asked to consider a value before estimating.
  • Availability – If an event can be more memorable, we believe it to be more probable.
  • Illusion of Validity – The belief that gathering more data will help us predict the future better.

Hiring the right people who ask questions, and encouraging data-driven discussions can improve better decision making skills.

While a high-level read, Winning with Data does provide a great blueprint for how to tackle the data revolution within your organization. The book could be better organized, but consider the topical categories of tools, training, data, and people as you read or take notes. Also, I would like to see more resources available of examples of companies transforming data cultures for greater benefits. If you do follow much of the startup ecosystem either for wisdom or inspiration, I highly recommend following Tomasz Tunguz either on social media or via his personal blog.

Read the book

Get Winning with Data on Amazon.

Frank Bien

With over 20 years growing and leading technology companies, Frank Bien built his career on nurturing strong corporate culture and highly efficient teams.. Prior to Looker, Frank was SVP of Strategy for storage vendor Virsto (acquired by VMware) and VP of Strategic Alliances at big-data pioneer Greenplum, leading their acquisition by EMC (now Pivotal). He led Product Marketing and Strategy at early scale-out data warehousing company Sensage and was VP of Solution Sales at Vignette/OpenText. Earlier in his career he held executive roles at Dell and the Federal Reserve.

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