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Why Google Can Not Run the World: Wisdom = Data + Experience

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Google's purchase of Nest moves it one step further into the Internet of Things and a completely connected world. There's no doubt that data-driven decisions can make homes more energy efficient. There's no doubt about the multiplier effects of sharing data across devices. There's also no doubt that pushing this to its logical conclusion is a recipe for unmitigated disaster.

There was a story on 60 Minutes a very long time ago about a pilot who was in his last few weeks before his mandatory retirement. On one flight's takeoff, a light went on signaling that one of the plane's engines was overheating. The co-pilot asked if he should shut down the engine in line with standard protocols. The pilot said "no," circled around and landed the plane back on the runway they'd taken off from. Something had felt different to him.

It turned out that the engine light was functioning properly and that the engine was indeed overheating. The data was correct. Things had felt different to the pilot because the reason the engine was overheating was that the other three engines had already shut down. The overheating engine was working harder than normal because it was the only thing keeping the plane in the air.

Data are helpful for decisions. They can dictate routine, automated decisions. But complex, out-of-the-ordinary decisions are best made when data are filtered through experience.

QlikTech's CTO, Anthony Deighton, talked with me about this issue. QlikTech questioned 442 executives, managers and directors of companies across North America, Europe and Asia Pacific to understand the level of confidence that corporate leaders have in decisions made, based on the data and information available to them.

The research, conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytics Services, shows that there is a lack of confidence in how the information is influencing decision-making; and at a time where there is widespread pressure to make decisions in real time using real time data, it isn't working. Decision-makers need access to up-to-date, accurate and relevant data, which needs to be available to them in real time to allow them to make the right decisions.

Key Findings:

  • 42% of global business leaders don't have confidence in any decisions made, due to a lack of information or easy access to it.
  • They also found that organizational barriers are affecting decision-making, with 45% ranking 'closed door decision-making' without having the right people involved.
  • And furthermore 43% named excessive reliance on experience by top management as the top hurdles to overcome -- 42% also mentioned a lack of collaboration as another reason.

As Deighton explained to me, it's not an either/or choice. You can't make decisions purely based on data. You can't have "excessive reliance" on experience. You need both. "Don't follow the data off a cliff." Find a way to see the data and apply the experience. This is why QlikTech has been so successful with its natural analytics and natural interfaces. They let managers see the patterns and outliers in real time to aid in their decision-making.

Implications for you
  1. Invest in data. You need data. You need tools to collect, store, analyze and present data.
  2. Invest in experience. Put yourself and your people in situations that allow you to build your skills and expertise.
  3. Marry the two when it matters. Automate what you can. Allow people to exercise their judgment when you can. But when the risk/reward ratio is high insist on people starting with real data and applying their experience.

Another way to think about this is through a BRAVE (Behaviors, Relationships, Attitudes, Values and Environment) leadership lens. Use data to help you understand the environment. Then apply human experience to filter that through your values to help you make how to win choices on the way to building relationships to influence the behaviors that matter most.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com