Data Driven…or Data Informed?

data slide By bionicteaching on flickrI just finished reading Eric T. Peterson’s post titled The Myth of the “Data-Driven” Business.

I don’t talk or write much about ‘data’…mostly because I’ve always taken it for granted as something that was always ‘there’.   If the data I needed wasn’t available in an easy to consume format, I’ve always found a way to get what I needed through data collection, data manipulation or by hacking together data to get what i needed.

To me, data has always been something that I’ve used to do my job. Data is something that I’ve used to help inform myself, my teams, my organizations and my clients.

I’ve often heard people and companies talk about being ‘data driven’ and have always felt like I was missing something as I never really understood what they meant by being ‘data driven’.

In my world, data has always been the building block of services and platforms but data isn’t driving me, my business or my teams. Data is the base level of the business. Data is the business in its rawest form…but its also meaningless without context  and meaning.

Most of my thinking towards ‘data’ comes from my systems thinking and knowledge management education and training in the form of the Russell Ackoff model. The Ackoff model claims that  there are five ‘buckets’ that content in the human mind can be classified into. These buckets are:

  • Data
  • Information
  • Knowledge
  • Understanding
  • Wisdom

In the systems thinking and knowledge management world, the “Data -> Information -> Knowledge” model is quite prevalent…or maybe more accurately, its been the prevalent filter that i’ve used in my work.

So…from my filter, Data is the rawest level of ‘stuff’. Its the baseline that you build from.  Data leads to information, which leads to knowledge…but data is nothing until you build something on top of it…until you add some form of context or meaning.

Therefore, it was always hard for me to understand the ‘data driven’ people who’ve been popping up everywhere over the last few years.  I’ve never really given much credence to the ‘data driven’ mantra.

So you can imagine my surprise when I saw the The Myth of the “Data-Driven” Business headline in my RSS reader today.

In the article, Peterson makes a fairly convincing plea to stop using the term ‘data driven’…rather, he says, use something more like ‘data informed’.

Eric writes:

My concern arises from the idea that any business of even moderate size and complexity can be truly “driven” by data. I think the right word is “informed” and what we are collectively trying to create is “increasingly data-informed and data-aware businesses and business people” who integrate the wide array of knowledge we can generate about digital consumers into the traditional decisioning process. The end-goal of this integration is more agile, responsive, and intelligent businesses that are better able to compete in a rapidly changing business environment.

Emphasis Mine.

I can get behind ‘data informed’.

I can get behind using data to make better decisions. At the end of the data, thats why you collect data…to make better decisions.  But…you’ve got to put meaning, context and definition around that data to make it useful.

I’m keeping an eye on Eric’s post to see what discussions come out of it but I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you view ‘data driven’ vs ‘data informed’.

Image Credit: data slide By bionicteaching on flickr

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8 years ago

Interesting: RT @EricDBrown Data Driven…or Data Informed? http://t.co/UW5W9bj cc/ @clareob

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8 years ago

RT @EricDBrown: Published: Data Driven…or Data Informed http://t.co/dKQ5Mts

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8 years ago

Data Driven…or Data Informed?: I just finished reading Eric T. Peterson’s post titled The Myth of the “Data-Driv… http://t.co/GsJDdzn

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8 years ago

nice article: Data Driven…or Data Informed? | http://t.co/hKe4cA2

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8 years ago

Awesome. “@EricDBrown: Published: Data Driven…or Data Informed http://t.co/d4oSIhG”

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8 years ago

Data Driven…or Data Informed? http://t.co/dPxLjyJ via @EricDBrown

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8 years ago

Published: Data Driven…or Data Informed http://t.co/RiPyybT

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8 years ago

Data Driven…or Data Informed? http://t.co/HUyJVYm from @ericdbrown

shim_marom
shim_marom
8 years ago

Eric, I have spent most of my professional life dealing withe the provision of management information, starting with MIS, through EIS and in recent years in DW and BI. I never liked the term ‘data driven’ as it raises in my mind the analogy of one taking a boat ride and letting the current determine the final destination. The challange for executives is to define the problem domain first (i.e. ask the question(s)) and only then look at the data to find the answers. Some might suggest that this still qualifies for being called ‘data driven’ but I would argue… Read more »

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8 years ago

#pmot Check out "Data Driven…or Data Informed?" http://t.co/2RgjyqL via @ericdbrown

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8 years ago

Awesome. “@EricDBrown: Published: Data Driven…or Data Informed http://t.co/d4oSIhG”

ericbrown
8 years ago

@shim_marom I’m still looking for a better term myself, but ‘data informed’ is much better than data driven.

Data is essential to business, but we shouldn’t put it on a pedestal like some do. Sure its important and sure its necessary…but more important is the ability to use that data to make decisions. Perhaps thats what people mean when they use ‘data driven’ – but it conveys the wrong message to me.

thanks for the stopping by…and thanks for the HBR link…Jumping over to read that now.

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8 years ago

Data Driven…or Data Informed? @ericdbrown on Eric Peterson's very right distinction. Quoting Ackoff is refreshing too. http://ow.ly/6oEsv

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[…] is great, but data without good analysis is not. Eric D. Brown asks us if we are Data Driven … or Data Informed? on his blog. […]

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8 years ago

#Data Driven…or Data Informed? http://t.co/qPpyIhg #pmot

mroden
mroden
8 years ago

Eric, I totally agree with and like your term “data-informed.” Your article reminds me of a few sability/ user experience quotes about Websites and software that are full of “data,” but useless to the people who need to use them: “If you can’t find what you need or understand what you read … it’s useless.” -and- “If it’s hard to use it will hardly be used.” I guess it all comes down to this: people need information to do their work, and if information is not in a palatable form, it’s almost worse than no information at all. Martha Roden… Read more »

ericbrown
8 years ago

@mroden Hi Martha- Perfect examples….data and information need to be in a format that is understandable,useful and usable. Great stuff. Thanks for the comment. p

stephen.gilliss
stephen.gilliss
8 years ago

Hey Eric, Just discovered this site accidentally and glad I did. This “data-driven” blog immediately caught my attention because, well, I’m an IT PM working for a company that — amongst other things — has productized its data. Anyway, it seems the difference between data-driven and data-informed is semantics, really. You say potato, I say potato. Doesn’t change the fact that they’re both tubes harvested from the ground. Same with data-driven v data-informed. At least that’s how I see it. What’s most important is the philosophy behind the terminology and, as you’ve pointed out, the context in which the data… Read more »

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8 years ago

Data Driven…or Data Informed? | There is a difference. @ericdBrown harks back to Russell Ackoff to state it, nicely. http://t.co/S9EKeyY5

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8 years ago

RT @CharlesHGreen: Data Driven…or Data Informed? | There is a difference. http://t.co/iEZim5Sx

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8 years ago

RT @davidabrock: RT @CharlesHGreen: Data Driven…or Data Informed? | There is a difference. http://t.co/LCgGAoEg

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8 years ago

RT @CharlesHGreen: Data Driven…or Data Informed? | There is a difference. http://t.co/iEZim5Sx

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8 years ago

Data Driven…or Data Informed? | There is a difference. @ericdBrown harks back to Russell Ackoff to state it, nicely. http://t.co/S9EKeyY5

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8 years ago

Data Driven…or Data Informed via @EricDBrown http://t.co/N1NxCHLy

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8 years ago

Data
pmot
#Data Drivenu2026or Data Informed? http://t.co/fI0gKfXh #pmot

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8 years ago

Data Driven…or Data Informed? http://t.co/fdlINpfw via @ericdbrown

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[…] The benefits of Big Data are many…if you have the capability to use / consume  it.   There are some real benefits to using Data for decisions. […]

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[…] Our conversation started out like they always do in these types of meetings. He started asking me about big data, how big data can help companies and what big data would mean to their organization.  As I always do, I tried to provide a very direct and non-sales focused message to the CEO about the pros/cons of big data, data science and what it means to be a data-informed organization. […]

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