Big Data Doesn’t Guarantee Your Next Job


The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story entitled, Big Data Gets Master Treatment at B-Schools.

For sure, data analytics are critical when you get into any managerial job today — and incredibly critical in marketing and social media.

The article noted that “B-school students can’t get enough of big data. Neither can recruiters.”

Perhaps big data is a big entry point into today’s workforce, but, once you use it to land your first job, it is expected that you know how to use data thereafter.

In fact, at the top of the corporate ladder, if you are not facile in when and how to use data analytics, you are probably not facile in optimal business decision-making.

The operative word is “optimal.”

Business moves at such a torrid clip, in many cases, business leaders can’t make decisions with complete information. In fact, great leaders are able to make business decisions with incomplete information, yet great leaders know how to get the best information possible to make a decision.

We call this learning agility. Learning Agility is the ability to learn from experience and then apply that learning to perform successfully under new or first-time conditions, is a key indicator of high potential. So, great decision-making can be part experience, part data, and part judgment (more on judgment later).

And it is decision-making and execution that lands a second third and fourth job. Plus, it requires understanding how to decide with the right information.

Beyond data are relationships. Building relationships is key to the second, third and fourth jobs. Great leaders understand the human side of business. If you are a person who communicates all day via text, email – you are not a leader. One big fall out of too much data is we are losing humanity.

In fact, data, and big data can be dangerous in decision-making. What if you have loads of data to make a decision, but you are using the wrong data?

I reference a story from Ron Friedman, a PH.D and social psychologist entitled, Why Too Much Data Disables Your Decision Making. It cites a Princeton and Stanford University psychologists study titled On the Pursuit and Misuse of Useless Information.

It reveals that the human mind, in seeking data, can go on endlessly. It shows that pursuing data can have diminishing returns.

Friedman notes: “In a world where every click brings the promise of a discovery, we are all at risk of becoming addicts. The challenge lies in differentiating between questions worth exploring and questions best left unasked.”

Which leads me to what makes great executives and workers. In a word, judgment. We live in a world where we can seek more and more data – in fact and endless sea of data. When do you turn the data spigot off? When do you determine what data has value and what data is worthless?

Further data can be misleading. Consumers do not know what they want next, because they cannot see the future. Imagine if Apple had asked consumers in the year 2000, “Would you like to have an iPhone?” No one knew what it was. Or, “Would you like all your music, photos, and information accessible remotely in the cloud?” Data is not always a great predictor.

So, judgment on data use is what B-school may, or may, not teach you. But, I have found that understanding data and how and when to mine it is a critical tool for an executives to have.

But, the best ones understand when the tool has value and when it does not. And that is why B-schools may have you master big data. Indeed, it may help you get that first job.

But when you become a true data master, you own the data and its use; the data does not own and consume you. And, it is judgment that makes a great leader.

Do I have perfect data on that? Answer: “no.” I have to rely on imperfect data and judgment. And, I have learned to be OK with that.

[Photo Credit: Gary Waters/Getty Images]

This post appeared on the LinkedIn page of Bob Damon on November 14th, 2014 and can be viewed there by clicking here.