Leadership Limerick: The Data Can't Tell All

Every Monday, I offer a leadership limerick, highlighting an idea or strategy about effective leadership in limerick form.

 Data can put on quite a show
When you're deciding which way to go

But when it comes to its tale
Don't accept it wholesale

If innovation is what you want to grow.

Former Harvard Business School professor Gary Hamel often notes that innovation results from "insight into the unarticulated need."  While focus groups, surveys, and other forms of data collection often compile the articulated needs, they rarely specify the significant opportunities that might produce breakthrough, exponential shifts in value.

We're more likely to identify those opportunities looking beyond the decimal points, drawing on what Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management, refers to as abductive logic in his book The Design Of Business.  Abductive logic "creatively assembles the disparate experiences and bits of data that seem relevant in order to make an inference—a logical leap—to the best possible conclusion."  In short, it is the logic of what could be.  And what could be requires our individual and collective insight into the story that the data might be telling.

And when we have a sense of what could be (possible, desirable, valued, needed, dreamed of, worth pursuing, etc.) it's time to follow the advice of Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in Built to Last: try some stuff to see what works.  So by all means, do look to the data for guidance and insight.  It often will even point out where you may first want to try stuff or what stuff to try first.  Just don't expect it to direct you across the innovation finish line without some work on your own.

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