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