Combine Business Intelligence with Business Wisdom

I very much want to share a live presentation that especially resonated with me, and no doubt for those who had the good fortune to be in attendance: a TED talk by Barry Schwartz appealing for wisdom in the workplace and beyond.

The good news is you don’t have to be brilliant to be wise. The bad news is that without wisdom, brilliance isn’t enough. It’s as likely to get you and other people into trouble as anything else. — Barry Schwartz

I reflected on Barry Schwartz’s fine presentation from a business intelligence perspective. Consider Barry Schwartz’s compelling example of janitors who modify or skip their usual tasks for the benefit of patients and their families. Now imagine a supervisor, relying only on the numbers from time and attendance reports, who might reprimand these janitors for not completing their work tasks in a timely manner (rule enforcement)! Similarly, consider a supervisor, again relying on reports, has the epiphany to offer a wage incentive for janitors to complete their tasks ahead of schedule.

In both cases, supposedly justified by business intelligence, rules or incentives might be enforced that unwittingly discourage janitors from performing their tasks with empathy and in the long run will have a detrimental impact on patient care…

A CIO magazine blog entry, (found via this BeyeNETWORK posting) lamented an Accenture survey that reported 40% of business decisions are based on “gut.” Of those surveyed, just over half explained that their gut decisions relied on qualitative and subjective factors.

While some BI pundits might lament the existence of “gut” decisions, in fact, the ability to recognize when quantitative data must be tempered with qualitative and subjective factors is the sign of a wise decision maker.

If BI is used as the sole tool for making business decisions, then such misuse of BI can unwittingly run the risk of contributing to an organization’s bureaucracy instead of freeing the organization from it.

The hallmark of business intelligence is to enable managers and executives to make “informed business decisions.” It is still up to the manager or executive to make that “informed decision;” informed not only by the quantitative information provided by BI, but also with his or her years of knowledge of customers, employees, products, market conditions, and intangibles that can and should be part of that “informed decision,” a point made overwhelmingly clear by Barry Schwartz.

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