Accelerating the Advancement of Women Leaders 


July 24, 2018

Data-driven, evidence-based, applied analytics . . . the Big Data buzzwords that remind us it is wholly unacceptable to make decisions by gut feel, personal intuition or even just basic common sense. If there are strategic choices to be made, there ought to be reams of data on it.

And there are. Walmart gets 2.5 petabytes of data from its customer transactions every hour. Just one petabyte would fill 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text. A lot of data. By 2020, 1.7 megabytes of data will be created every second for every person on earth. Even more data.

But are there still other ways to effectively gather insights in addition to Big Data? Of course, and sometimes they actually work better.


The limits of big

One of the drawbacks of Big Data is that it has to be cleaned up and “sanitized” to fit into workable quantitative formats. But getting rid of the messy outliers sometimes omits nuance where the insights actually live.  Layers of management often further filter the data so that the frontline experience is long gone by the time the report hits senior levels.


The power of story

Returning to “real life stories” where actual people struggle with actual problems can turn up valuable insights into issues your customers or team members face.

That is how Airbnb’s founders unlocked early growth potential. They left their offices in Silicon Valley and traveled to their most concentrated market, New York City. They talked to actual Airbnb hosts and discovered some big problems on the ground. Hosts did not know how to photograph their own apartments attractively, could not navigate the complex Airbnb website, and felt funny collecting cash from guests.

The founders focused on these real-world pain points shared by real people and doubled top line growth.


Insights from the frontlines

The takeaway? Don’t stray too far from the trenches. The people working there and accessing your products and services know exactly what they need if you are willing to hear their stories and explore the messy details.

The waitstaff knows what dishes people rave about and which ones leave them disappointed. Your delivery team knows where the big delays happen that get shipments off schedule. And your sales team knows every aspect of your products and services your customers wish were different. Ask them.

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