TECHNOLOGY

Is Data-Driven Decision Making Always Best?

When it comes to running their businesses, these top CEOs have mixed feelings about data calling the shots.

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BY Betty Liu - 05 Dec 2017

Is Data-Driven Decision Making Always Best?

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Data is king. At least that's what it feels like these days. As our lives move further online, it seems all we do is assess and process information.

Not a day goes by when I don't use data to make decisions and analyze our situation. It's been immensely helpful throughout my entrepreneurial journey. Before starting my company Radiate we ran hundreds of surveys and tests to find out what was the best platform and medium for our future company. Data has supported my intuition and given me a pretty clear answer to the majority of my questions. And today, we use it on a daily basis to create a better user experience for our customers.

I'm not alone. Companies that made data-driven decisions were 5% more productive and 6% more profitable than their competitors.

But sometimes, too much of something can backfire. At times, we found ourselves so hampered by gathering better and better data that we moved too slowly to make a decision. It's a point that Nick Taranto, the co-founder of Plated, so eloquently put it when we interviewed him for Radiate: "Data is a beautiful thing but it can also destroy your company."

Nick is not alone. These top CEOs also have some interesting views on data driving their company's decisions:

Steve Ellis, CEO of WhoSay: "Data is still what everyone talks about [but] no one really uses properly." He went on to note: You've got to check it all, you've got to test it all. You've got to use performance, you've got to use data. You'll staggeringly find how often your instincts are wrong."

Mark Gerson, co-founder and Chairman of GLG: "Data should play a significant role whenever you are making a decision...whenever you're making a decision you want to amass all of the readily available data to help inform it."

Tom Patterson, founder and CEO of Tommy John: "If you don't have the mindset where you want to understand data, you're hurting yourself...if you invest $50,000 in a print ad in a fashion magazine, you have no idea how those people are coming to your website. But if you are spending $50,000 in digital marketing, you can track the attribution through links, you understand what sources traffic is coming from to the site, how many people are on the site, how they're converting. So data is really critical."

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian: "We have 3,000 flights a day that Delta produces, and a tremendous amount of metrics that we use to manage our operations with. The thing about an airline is that every day you start off with a playbook; but something happens, the weather happens, something changes, and you need to you need to have a rhythm and a protocol for trying to make timely decisions. It has to be data-driven."

Acknowledge the power and beauty of data but recognize the limitations. Pretty much all the CEOs I talk to say data alone do not have all the answers - gut instinct also plays a critical role. Their job is to weigh the value of both.