When Data Is Not Enough to Drive Change

IMG_7064Sports Teams Shrugging Off Analytics

I recently attended a great Qualtrics Insight Summit where several people gave thought provoking keynotes. Malcolm Gladwell was one of those speakers and talked about why people won’t take action even when the data clearly shows a better way. He gave several sports examples, including how analytics show professional American football teams should postpone their draft picks and how they should also always go for it on fourth down instead of punting. For a more global perspective, he pointed out how statistics show soccer, or fútbol, is a “weak link” sport and teams should spend more money getting better role players instead of highly paid superstars. The data is there to support each of these behavioral and organizational changes, yet organizations still don’t act on it.

The Case of Wilt Chamberlain’s Free Throws

My favorite example, however, from Mr. Gladwell was that of Wilt Chamberlain’s free throws. Wilt Chamberlain is arguably the most dominant basket player in the history of the game. He still holds more records than any other player, yet he hasn’t played for more than 40 years.

According to Gladwell, Wilt was a terrible free throw shooter his first two years [see The Curious Case of Wilt Chamberlain’s Free Throws]. His team hired a shooting coach to work with him after his second season. His coach taught him to shoot free throws underhanded—what some people call a “Granny” shot. He started to use the method and his free throw percentage improved considerably. In fact, many people know that Wilt’s most famous record is scoring 100 point in a game. However, what few people realize about his 100-point game is that Wilt shot 28 of 32 from the free throw line that night, which is still a record for the most free throws made in a game.

Wilt Chamberlain scored 60 or more points in 32 games. To put that in perspective, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are the next closest contenders in career 60+ point games, having only accomplished it in only five games each. How many times do you think all the other players in NBA history put together have done it? The answer is 32 times, the same as Wilt.

The Challenge with Social Thresholds

Another stunning fact about Wilt is that 24 out of the 32 of his 60+ games came in his third and fourth seasons, when he had his highest free throw percentage. That also includes his 100-point game. But then Wilt Chamberlain suddenly stopped shooting free throws underhanded after only a little more than a single season.

Why would Wilt stop when all the stats pointed to better results? It’s because he felt like a “sissy” shooting the ball underhanded—no one else was doing it. According to Gladwell, there are social thresholds and individual tolerances to those thresholds that keep people from taking action on certain data. These social thresholds affect decision making all the way from the head office, to coaching staffs, down to individual players. Sadly, after his fourth season, Wilt Chamberlain returned to his ways for the remainder of his 14-year career to end up holding the most dubious of his records, that of being the worst free-throw shooter in history at 51.1%.

Mr. Gladwell’s point was that maybe if the coaching staff had focused on coaching more of Wilt’s teammates to shoot the ball underhanded, he wouldn’t have been so self-conscious about it. It’s very possible that if they had, Wilt may have reached the 100-point mark more than once and his teams would have won more games and championships?

Data can spark ideas but without action it’s meaningless. Few people will move forward without good examples of success – the social threshold effect. Modernizing IT is just as much about socializing change as it is about finding the right technologies to create change. How do you successfully roll out a new technology or initiative? There is a certain degree of socialization involved. However, the socialization methods can be different—when it comes to socializing technology, start small and build on and promote each success. When it comes to socializing data, go big and create more transparency by giving more people access to ways to visualize data in the context of their business. Then publish the success from such findings, no matter what departments they come from.

Appeal to the Emotional Side—Then to the Logical Side of the Brain

Another speaker at the Qualtrics Insight Summit was Chip Heath, co-author of multiple best selling books. Mr. Heath made similar observations as Malcom Gladwell about why people see information and don’t take action. His primary emphasis, however, was that when we want to create change, the easiest way to do it is by appealing to both the emotional side of people’s brains, which initiates action, and by empowering the logical side of their brains with the appropriate information, which gives people confidence to move forward without getting stuck in analysis paralysis.

You can create a similar experience in IT when you combine a more intuitive, user experience that appeals to the emotional side of the brain along with contextual, easy to interpret, data for everyone in your business to exercise the logical side of their brains. Early success with workspaces for roles like the IT Analyst, Asset Managers, Security Admins and End Users make it apparent that most businesses will benefit by using workspace technology and methodology to build a better user, employee, and customer experience [Three Reasons Why IT Should Care about User Experience White Paper].

Quick Takeaways

  • If you’re not seeing people or groups making changes related to significant data, address the social thresholds and see if you can create and publish more about the success of your technology initiatives.
  • When rolling out new technology, make sure you appeal as much to the emotional side of people’s brains as you do to their logical side—It may require communicating more about “the team came up with this solution”, or “we made it happen faster than expected”, or “this will make a difference to the business”.
  • Modernize your IT by combining the benefits of the user experience with the content and information to drive action in your organization—When you get the experience and the role-based processes right, people will have a hard time describing why things just click and business moves quicker—but you’ll know why.

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