lytic tool kit to pair with expertise?
I think you want to integrate it as much as possible. That means that they’re going to have some business skills, too, right? And learn that presenting their work is important. But you need it to be integrated into the fabric of the organisation.
You’ve seen this shift in baseball teams, for example, where it used to be that you’d hire an analyst to check that box and have them compartmentalise. That doesn’t accomplish much at all.
If you can’t present your ideas to at least a modestly larger audience, then it’s not going to do you very much good. Einstein supposedly said that I don’t trust any physics theory that can’t be explained to a 10-year-old. A lot of times the intuit ions behind t hings aren’t really al l t hat complicated. In Moneyball, that on-base percentage is better than batting average looks like “Okay, well, the goal is to score runs. The first step in scoring runs is getting on base, so let’s have a statistic that measures getting on base instead of just one type of getting on base.” Not that hard a battle to fight.
Now, if you feel like you’re expressing yourself and getting the gist of something and you’re still not being listened to, then maybe it’s time to change careers. It is the case [that] people who have analytic talent are very much in demand right now across a lot of fields, so people can afford to be picky to an extent.
Don’t take a job where you feel bored. If it’s challenging, you feel like you’re growing, you have good internal debates, that’s fine. Some friction can be healthy. But if you feel like you’re not being listened to, then you’re going just want to slit your wrists after too much longer. It’s time to move on.
A lot of times when data isn’t very reliable, intuition isn’t very reliable either. The problem is people see it as an either/or, when it sometimes is both or neither, as well. The question should be how good is a model relative to our spitball, gut-feel approach? And also, how much do we know about this problem. There are some issues where you just don’t have a good answer and you have to hedge your risks as a business and not pretend that you’re more certain than you really are.
A lot of private businesses are very reluctant to deal with uncertainty in their outlook. The manager doesn’t want to seem like he’s not sure what he’s doing. And the consultant or the analyst wants to provide information to make the manager feel more confident. That’s quite problematic because a lot of problems that are on the frontier of business, on the frontier of science, [are] by definition fairly challenging ones that no one else has solved.
That’s where having a more humble attitude about what you can accomplish and what you can’t is important. Just because a model is not going to be very precise or accurate doesn’t mean that therefore you should trust your gut instinct after a couple of whiskeys and assume it’s going to be very much better. Walter Frick is an associate editor at Harvard Business Review.
© 2013 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. © The New York Times 2013.