I believe that data is as important as electricity. No business or leader can survive without it.
But just as no company differentiates itself through its use of electricity, data alone will rarely differentiate a company or leader.
Almost everybody (with a few exceptions like Amazon, Facebook, Google) has access to pretty much the same data. When I see businesses hyperventilating about their “data lakes”, I feel sorry for what they will dredge up in this pool of increasingly outdated, irrelevant, commoditized sludge they massage and rub into gooey gibberish.
What story do you extract, weave and tell from the spreadsheet of numerics, the files of facts and the streams of notifications that cascade, glitter and dance on your screens ?
In the past four months the entire world is struggling with the impact of Covid-19. By March every country in the world had access to the same data. What differentiated one countries response compared to another country was a) how they read the data, b) the quality of the leadership of the country, c) the unique history or geography of the country and d) the trust in government.
Korea, Germany, New Zealand revered science and expertise, had trustworthy and transparent leaders, and either had a unique history or geography that made fast response or containment possible.
US, UK and Brazil leadership refuse to accept reality, were blow hards and were polarized to a point that no one knew who or what to trust.
It was not the data that made the difference. It was the people, the history, the geography, the culture, the emotion.
If you want to lead please lead and do not hide behind numbers and say crap like things are too uncertain.
Life is uncertain..
If things were certain, a machine could do your job. So be glad the future cannot be lived forward with only backward looking databases.
What do you bring to the data when you bring the data to your bosses or to meetings?
What matters is not the data but the perspectives, points of view, provocations and plan of action you bring to the data.
Here for example is a perspective, point of view, provocation and plan of action regarding Covid-19
Perspective: The Great Re-Invention: Many people have called what we are all coping with the Great Acceleration ( things that might occur three years from now will happen in 3 months), the Great Pause, or The Great Recession 2.0. There are comparisons to SARS/MERS, 9/11 and the 2008/2009 Financial Meltdown. I believe that this is far greater in impact than anything else in the past five decades because a) this is a health, financial and social crisis all at the same time. while the others were one or two but not all three, 2) this is happening to every country in the world and 3) when people start or stop doing something for 60 or more days they form new habits. I believe that society, business and individual mindsets will literally be re-invented in the next 18 months which is how long it will take at the fastest for a vaccine to be both created and be widely distributed.
Point of View: The New Strange:The term “New Normal” is an oxymoron. It is also completely wrong. If you wish to take a peek at the future google “schools in south korea” or ” malls in china” or ” restaurants post covid-19″ or take a visual tour on Instagram of airports post Covid-19. Its a dystopian, science fiction filled landscape. Nothing normal. Very strange. Till a widely distributed vaccine strange will be the new normal.
Provocation: Labor gains at the expense of Capital. The cost of labor ( particularly blue collar and front line labor) is going to rise significantly as companies will have to prove that they are looking after their employees, society and government. (The new ESG is Employees, Society and Government and not Environment, Sustainability and Governance). They will do this through a) better health care and life benefits, b) much higher wages than $15 an hour in the US, c) payment of higher taxes either due to increased taxes or shaming/curtailing of tax avoidance. Talent and consumers will often judge a leader and a firm by how they look after their employees including diversity. The cost of supply chains will also rise as resilience, diversification from china and other factors besides cost will matter. To offset this expect massive reduction in real estate costs and elimination of half or more of travel budgets.
Plan of Action: “Starting” Not “Re-Starting”: The biggest mistake companies are making is believing they are going back to restart their businesses. There are three reasons why this is not true.
First and most important consumer and customer behavior and expectations are very different than December 2019. People and society is fragile. They are looking for safety, security and value.
Second your employees and work place have changed. You may have fewer employees. Many of them after the last four months are different people with different mindsets and are looking at their work and leaders with new eyes.
Third, your category and competitive set may have changed. After the Great Recession was over because of new mindsets as well as new technologies (social and mobile) a plethora of new companies were formed. GM and Ford were no longer each others key threats but Uber and Tesla were. Gillette and Schick’s ultra expensive over-engineered blades were now facing Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club. Post Covid-19 a different consumer mindset combined with scaled new technologies ( 5g, Voice, Cloud and Machine Learning) means you better think again . Start again not Re-start. What new needs and behaviors from consumers? What new competitors? What new products or services and ways of working?
As you move forward I suggest that you expose yourself to lots of valid data and differing points of view. Next add value to your company and to your career by providing a perspective, a point of view, a provocation and/or a plan of action on everything you have imbibed versus just reporting facts and process.
If you do you will forever grow and succeed.
If not you will be automated away.
Rishad Tobaccowala ( @rishad ) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by Harper Collins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in. Rishad is a sought after speaker and advisor who helps people think, feels and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at https://rishadtobaccowala.com/