Poor Communication can Scuttle Effective BI, Your Reputation, and a Simple Bus Ride

Several years ago I flew to and from a trade show via TF Green Airport in Providence, RI instead of Boston Logan Airport as usual.  This small airport has (or at least had at the time) one large economy parking lot with shuttle buses.

Remember Ralph Kramden? The bus driver I dealt with was the Anti-Kramden.

You were supposed to give the bus driver the number of your bus stop near your car.  Running late, I rushed to catch my departing flight and didn’t make note of the number, but I knew I had parked near a certain corner of the lot.

“Excuse me,” I said to the bus driver, “but I don’t have my bus stop number. Can you just drop me off at whatever stop is nearest to the far right corner of the lot?”

“What’s the number?” grunted the bus driver.

“I don’t have the number.  But I know my car is near the far right corner of the lot from where we are right now.”

“What’s the number?” the driver again grunted, a little louder this time.

(What…?!) “I said I don’t have the number. I’m near that corner of the lot over to your right.”

“What’s the number?”

(Is this guy for real?!) “Look, can you just stop anywhere near the far corner of the lot?”

One of my colleagues from the trade show, a TF Green regular and just as annoyed with the driver as I was, shouted out a stop number he happened to know was close to my car. The bus driver, now given “The Number,” did silently agree to stop there, his eyes forward as I walked off the bus. Note that there was no language, cultural or hearing-ability issue with the driver. He was simply locked into his own way of thinking to a ridiculous degree: no stop number, no stop.

The way a person communicates is a major component of their reputation and personal brand.  And I believe the vast majority of communication problems are caused by the personal baggage we bring to the table when communicating, known in psychological terms as confirmation bias.  

Specifically, a person might pay attention to those bits of a conversation that affirm their beliefs about the matter at hand, and ignore/filter out any information that doesn’t fit that pre-existing bias. That bus driver was obviously not communicating with me; for all I know, his confirmation bias may have been ‘Hey, it’s this guy’s fault for not knowing his bus stop number!’

There is an excellent book of relevance to this topic: Know What You Don’t Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen by Michael Roberto.  A book for anyone involved in management, marketing communication, or business intelligence/data warehousing, Michael Roberto’s book addresses human flaws in how we interpret, communicate and act upon information, which enable small problems to become major crises.  Michael Roberto explores why failures to discover informational insight and/or act upon it happen.  He draws illuminating examples from business, healthcare and world events (including 9/11). Michael Roberto also highlights the active behaviors and actions needed to effectively communicate and see the forest through the trees of information to prevent crises before they happen.

I recently read that vast majority of all organizations in a recent survey reported very little benefit from business intelligence systems, if ever!  I have to wonder: how many reported BI project failures were due to technical issues with the tools and solutions themselves, or, as Michael Roberto suggests, might it really be due to the corporate cultures that discourage asking “politically unpopular” questions based on data analytics, or pooh-pooh “gut feel” when little or no supporting data exists (yet)…? See much more on this topic here.

It’s easy to judge that bus driver harshly for his rudeness and poor communication skills. The much harder challenge is to honestly ask ourselves whether we have ever come across like him. Did we bring any personal baggage to a group meeting, a one-to-one conversation, an email exchange? Did we fail to listen and communicate effectively? Did we filter the information conveyed to us to match our personal biases, likes and dislikes, and end up acting even a little like that disgruntled bus driver?

If you liked this article, you may also like:

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4 thoughts on “Poor Communication can Scuttle Effective BI, Your Reputation, and a Simple Bus Ride

    1. Hi Mike. Thank you for responding to my blog post. I look forward to writing much more about your book as I resume reading it again after two weeks on the road.

      I am very interested in discussing with you how the points of your book impact Business Intelligence/Data Warehousing (BI/DW) technology and the use of these technologies. As I noted in the post, I wonder how many BI/DW “failures” are really due to technological or implementation flaws, and how many are due to the company not encouaging the right questions be asked or not accepting the answers provided…

  1. I really like the above post (and a lot of the other things you’ve been writing about). I’ve been focusing on the intelligence gleaned from customers. A similar story occurred at a hospital (which had invested millions into quality care), and the CEO’s father refused to interact with the receptionist at the front desk. She had “ruined” his experience the previous time. Talking to your customers can reveal their most important “pain points”, not just what you want them to remember.

    1. Thanks Tamara for your comment. Instead of replying here I think I will incorporate it as a new blog posting…Mike

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