Is Data Erasing Your Competitive Advantage?
Is data making us different, or the same?
The big data revolution has proven masterful in allowing us to achieve new standards of efficiency, and helping to guide us through the murky world of decision making.
But it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that everything has a counterpoint.
Despite the pop culture bluster around data, what I’ve observed is that many leaders are avoiding blame by letting the numbers dictate their decisions.
That is to say, they’re using data and ‘best practices’ to justify staying with the pack, meaning our newfound ocean of intelligence isn’t helping us to be different, it’s proving potent in making us one of the herd.
But the objective is to be the needle, not the hay stack.
Recently, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay insinuated that it was an over-reliance on analytics that pushed him to hire Jeff Saturday as interim head coach, despite Saturday having zero coaching credentials.
“I’m glad he doesn’t have any NFL experience, he hasn’t learned the fear that’s in this league. Because it’s tough for all our coaches. They’re afraid so they go to analytics.”
It seems (to Irsay, at least) that coaches would rather lose their job with the numbers on their side, than lose their job by being themselves and trying something unique.
As a football coach, data may provide me with intelligence that proves useful in individual player development, or certain in-game scenarios, however over-reliance on data-driven insights can erase those advantages in an instant. If I have the insight, chances are the opposition do too.
The more predictable we are, the more that unpredictability becomes a competitive advantage.
And we seem to be at a point now where going against the data may be the most effective course of action.
Watch this short clip from the mid-70s era Netherlands soccer team.
It looks like defending you’d see at an Under-9s level, but in reality it is an extremely coordinated attempt at shock and awe — disrupting and overwhelming the opposition. Its beauty is in its unpredictability.
The opponents are stunned because Dutch players aren’t in their ‘traditional’ positions, meaning the entire structure of everything they’d learned growing up (plus their game plan) was now out the window.
All of the data the opposition players had gathered suggested that you’re not supposed to have six defenders charging at you the second you receive the ball — This isn’t how football is played!
The lesson for us all is that we need to question whether data is making us different, or the same. If your aim is to be mid-pack, sticking to the numbers is going to serve you well for the next couple of decades.
But if you’re interested in being remarkable, there’s simply no advantage to glean from being the same as everyone else — especially in an age where there’s more competition than ever before.
Hilariously, in the age of predictability, being unpredictable is now the best way to get ahead.