Depending on financial and/or emotional impact of our action, we often start to look for information that would help reduce uncertainties associated with a decision we are about to make. The more impactful the outcome of such decision is on your career, key relationship or financial status, the larger your thirst for supporting information.
Many of us experienced desperate attempts to hoard all available data about the subject matter only to find ourselves drowning in detailed, but meaningless to the decision, information. At times the tsunami of data makes us stall for time, paralyzed by lack of clear direction delivered by our analysis efforts. So, how much information is enough? Considering that information has a limited “shelf-life”, timeliness is another important criteria when you assess what it means to have “enough” information.
There are many, perhaps too many, technology “solutions” that promise “actionable” information or insight. This post is not about them. In this post I want to share ideas about the framework of estimating what kind of information would help you reduce the risk of a particular decision and how the timeliness of such information impacts the outcome.
The first step is to ask yourself – do I seek information:
- to form your decision,
- to protect yourself in case your decision produces adverse results, or
- to buy more time in hope you don’t have to make this decision.
These are all legitimate reasons for gathering information, but depending on your honest answer they would help you to gather very different kinds of information.
If you believe you already know what decision should be made, you should focus on information that contain social and financial proof that supports your belief. People and organizations have very different approach to uncovering knowledge, but it is in our nature to mitigate risk by looking for protection in numbers.
The knowledge we seek is subconsciously filtered by our specific goals and core value based belief systems. So be honest with yourself, acknowledge your position and start to fortify it with facts and evidence to mitigate risk in case you are wrong. The timeliness of such information depends on a timeframe of your decision outcome expectation. If your decision is expected to yield result six month after it is acted upon, you do not really need real-time data feeds to illustrate that such decisions are likely to produce the expected outcome.
If you truly want a well-informed decision or to question your beliefs, remember that the most difficult time to generate new ideas is when you think you already have the answer. For example, if you are a “visionary” marketer who “knows” your customers needs, do not waste your time, money and effort on market research. Just get enough “new” data to do validation, described in a previous paragraph, make your bet and hope for the best. However, if you have the ambition to create a new category or a category killer product, you are best advised to gather information about why people buy such products (i.e. what job do they hire such products to do), how they use them and what are the opportunities to simplify these people’s experience. One does not need a very high volume of such experiential information to discover unmet customer needs, but its timeliness cannot exceed the lifetime of current products on the market. There are technologies available to assist in aggregation and primary analysis of such data, but discovery and interpretation of experiential, i.e. anecdotal, evidence into product marketing requirements, requires true vision and an open mind.
The important thing to remember – it is impossible to eliminate risk, but there are practical methods to mitigate it by use of carefully selected information to reduce uncertainties. According to Aristotle – “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing & be nothing”. However, even the avoidance of making decisions does not eliminate risk.