The surprisingly interesting issue of data awareness.

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Big data has captured the zeitgeist – it is the thing to know and understand – our understanding of R seems to be pivotal to so much of organisational life.  However, somehow we have a capacity to be bored by the really really important stuff.  I know that in the past I have fought to stay awake to understand specific details that don’t really seem to be relevant to me.  But, if they are put in a language I understand then I am all ears.  For example, I remember years ago a young man trying to sell me a fairly complicated financial tool that could apparently do nearly everything you might want in a savings / investment / critical care /magic product with a metaphor of a water tank.  It made no sense to me either now or then and I now know, did not perform at all.


The lesson I learned from this was that I do need to be able to contextualise what I am being told and put it into numbers that make sense and allow me to picture what is being offered.  This is particularly important when there is a plethora of information and sorting through it to work out what is really important is a key task.  This is particularly so as we have a tendency to become very quickly disinterested in information that we do not see as relevant or immediately usable.  In fact, Lo, Hagman and Loweistein (2020) found that we actively avoid information that might make us uncomfortable!  They looked in particular at how people might respond to information that they don’t necessarily want to know right now, but would help future decision making.  Focusing on personal health, consumer finance, and health they found that people tend to act in characteristic ways to avoid learning about things they don’t immediately want to know about.

This is of particular relevance in the area of contract management.  Who does want to know that a contract they managed could have been less costly or the goodwill offered focused more on your organisation’s KPIs.  But, how much more costly is not knowing, yet…! 

There are two underlying lessons for organisations form this.

  1. Ensure that data around management risk is clear and easy to obtain and share.  Consistently sharing data will cut off the nooks and crannies where it could be hidden in an organisation.
  2. Develop a communication culture where the focus is on building performance through acknowledging ALL the data, good and bad and then lifting up the metaphorical stone to see what is under it.  The issues that have led to increased goodwill can then be addressed and understood.  What is initiated as an inducement can easily become a loss, not sadly, even a loss leader, but simply a loss.  
  3. For managers, understand your own preferences in terms of knowing the state of play as well as that of your team and build up confidence that issues can be addressed in a collegiate way, without blame and so data can become a friend.

So, in summary, we tend to react to data in characteristic ways, some like a cat near water others like a beagle at meal times. Our natural reactions will likely always be the same inside, but a well designed data tool, that is easy to use and clear to understand, combined with support and encouragement at organisational level could encourage even our metaphorical cat to bathe!


Author: Monica Augustine