Finding Data Analysts in Unexpected Ways

1 Sep

In this article I’m taking a look at how data from seemingly mundane sources can be used to create situational awareness, improved decisions and increase organisational wisdom.

I’ve recently been doing some research\ consultancy with a health based organisation around rolling out a new management program. The management program has implications for how numerous teams work, collect and analyse data. The research involved the application of a prediction\ anticipation methodology to identify the domain the teams would be operating in and from this the development of means to maintain situational awareness in a changing environment. As I analysed some of the challenges the program faced I was once again struck by how many people involved in any project which aims to extend across a timeline identify the same hotspots- changing priorities, project creep, differing agendas, volatile political climate and so on. This is probably very familiar to any reader but illustrates the complexity and ambiguity of people, organisations and the future.

The future is so complex and so overwhelming that change can be perceived as threatening; it most frequently gets viewed in terms of losses. Most people have not been trained how to manage complexity, they are instead exposed to strategies which aim to identify and remove threats. The vulnerability of linear integrated plans is well documented, you simply don’t know where the biggest risks will come from, and this locks plans into pass\ fail situations. An alternative is more flexible plans with adaptable goals, with the biggest emphasis placed on developing team and individual situational awareness.

I’ll return to my e mail study to illustrate (apologies for the repetition but I hope it proves the point) , so I’ll just recap what this was- a two year investigation of 16,000 organisational e mails to explore how power and influence was communicated electronically. There was one very successful respondent during the study who was able to “get things done quickly” via e mail by adapting his e mail style to match the style (insight into the mental model) of who they were communicating. The methods used to achieve this can be summarised below-

Recognise the pattern of the e mail sender (for example- opens with Hi, closes with Cheers)
Copy the pattern of the e mail sender (for example- reply with Hi and close with Cheers)
Adapt the pattern to establish a rapport or shared pattern

Respondents in the study who weren’t able to achieve the completion of tasks\ requests via e mail presented the following

Did not recognise the senders e mail as a pattern which could provide insight into their (senders) mental model
Remain fixated on a single e mail pattern
Demonstrated no adaption

The successful respondent used e mail as data which was then used to lever an analogue; they viewed the e mail as a basis for decision and then adapted, maintaining situational awareness. Now, to return to my original topic of linear plans and perceived political futures, the reason these (linear plans) frequently do not meet expectations is because the people subject to the plans do not have enough available analogues. The plan or strategy aims to remove threats from a complex environment (very difficult) making people passive.

The proliferation of data and electronic communication has created vast amounts of adaptable analogues; if you look. What might seem just like text could in fact be valuable data which takes the analyst beyond passivity and onto proactive decision making through situational awareness. Increased visibility has meant data is now, to quote Heidegger, “at hand”. Taking an analytical perspective to what is “at hand” can produce the means to lever political and sensitive situations, to broaden domain understanding and improve situational awareness. Quite often we never need more information, just an analytical perspective and understanding.

The subject of top down power and order has been extensively researched and written about- the people at the top control the people down below. Strategies are a by product of this thinking, the use of language and formal authority creating an impression of control and order over the environment. The complexity of life derails this thinking, but the ability to use what is “at hand” to analytically navigate the environment is an underused resource. By encouraging people to be more analytical instead of data\ strategy consumers will produce more analogues. The creation of more analogues will increase the problem solving initiative of people. When this starts happening then goals can be reached through adaption rather than control. The by product is vast increases in organisational wisdom- the ability to anchor, simulate and adapt through complexity.

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