Not all data are information but some make great packing material.
Computers let us keep track of too much unnecessary junk. Because computers produce volumes of neatly formatted, important-looking reports we feel an obligation to study the “data”. Too much time and resource is wasted producing and reading the mountains of neatly printed rows, columns and summaries. Further time is wasted producing narratives to accompany the largely useless figures. Finally, more time is lost as this meaningless mess migrates to PowerPoint where it will ultimately bore into the upper-level brains and kill any remaining possibility of creative thinking.
How often does a PowerPoint presentation tell you something you didn’t already know? Sure, you knew sales were off but you didn’t know sales were off 12.23%. Does your data tell you why sales are off? Does your data tell you why your expenses as a percentage of sales increased? No. Your data tells you what expenses increased, not why they increased.
When we are spoon fed data in the form of a PowerPoint presentation we need not think or analyze the material because the computer has already done that. No thinking is required, it’s time for action! When we are being given information, we stop thinking. Our brain is either absorbing or wandering.
When you are shown a graph that demonstrates a 6 month sales decline and then are told that your third biggest customer went out of business 6 months ago, your brain processes the data and obviously concludes that there is a logical reason for the sales decline. Duh.
We may come to the wrong conclusion and therefore take the wrong course of action. This is why so many businesses remain mired down for long periods of time when things go bad. It takes a very long time to replace your third biggest customer. Are your other customers buying more or less? Why did you lose your third biggest customer?
I think it would be interesting, and probably worth doing, to trace all the cost associated with producing unimportant data.
More important data can be gathered at very little cost using a scientific method. I recommend that you observe and experiment. Look around your business and you’ll see in a real way what numbers on a spreadsheet only dimly reflect. You’ll get “whys” instead of only the “whats” about your business. Try packing an order yourself. Take a few customer service calls. Get out of the board room and spend a couple hours in shipping. Make notes.
Then, rather than presenting dozens of boring slides, why not see if you can put your most important discoveries on 2 or 3 slides. Turn the projector off and talk about solutions.
Do you want to replace your third biggest customer with a new big customer? Or would it be better to add 50 new small customers who are willing to pay a slightly higher price to get “big customer” treatment from your company? If you don’t plan which course to take it will take you far longer to reach the goal of getting sales back up to the previous level.
I’d like to see less data tracking and more critical thinking. That used to be called common sense. Now we can’t replace a plastic screw with a metal one unless we have a set of supporting metrics even though everyone in the service department knows the plastic screws fail. Hey! Maybe that’s why the expenses went up!? Ya think?!
Chris Reich, Author of TeachU’s Business Talk Blog