“3% of the problems have figures, 97% of the problems do not.” – W. Edwards Deming

It’s hardly a surprise for most managers that using data in problem solving and decision making is important. But one prominent advocate of using data, the late W. Edwards Deming, a statistician by profession, did not try to use data to make decisions. He used data as a starting point to develop what he termed “profound knowledge” that would reveal systemic causes of problems.

The talk today is all about Big Data. The promise is that by using super computing and complex algorithms we can crunch tons of data and develop this profound knowledge. That’s the lazy leader’s approach. You can crunch Big Data and discover the 3%, faster than ever before, which will get you started on your journey to understanding the other 97%, which has no easily accessible data.

What’s included in this 97%? Here’s some clues to get you started:

  • How much pride your people have or don’t have in their work
  • What psychosocial* factors are being suppressed in your workplace, and holding you back
  • How much micro-managing and bullying occurs in your workplace, and is undermining the health of your workforce
  • How much human potential is hidden in your workforce
  • What is un-discussable in your workplace and why that matters
  • How much your managers are motivating people by fear as opposed to identifying their potential for growth and then helping them fulfil their potential (Note: Fear produces bad data)
  • What unresolved conflict, or conflict avoidance, exists, and how that affects quality and productivity
  • How much discretionary effort people are holding back, and why

*Definition of Psychosocial: of or relating to the interrelation of social factors and individual thought and behavior.

Work is social by nature, and performance is driven by thought and behavior. Suppress any of these and you’re in BIG trouble, that BIG data alone can’t solve!

That list should get  you started. Just remember you won’t find the data and deep systemic causes by staring at Big Data reports or dashboards. You need to get out of your box.