Using data today

daveEverybody likes a story.  Everybody likes to believe that they make good decisions when they trust to their gut instinct.

There was a heated debate on Any Questions last month about the closure of a local maternity unit.  It was replaced by a specialist unit 30 miles distant.

There were stories, both on AQ and sister show Any Answers, about mums who had either saved the lives of their babies because they’d driven to the local unit fast when it was open, or mums giving birth on the way to the specialist unit or in the car park because they couldn’t get there fast enough.

That’s terrible isn’t it?  Your blood boils at the thought.  The repeated insistence of some speakers that the facts were that lives were actually being saved because of the new unit just didn’t have the impact of those stories.  Presenter Anita Anand commented “the plural of anecdote is NOT data”.  She means of course that data is always more factual.  This might be true, but it doesn’t mean that it is more convincing, or that we always know how to use it.

We’ve got lots of data to choose from now in media agencies.

In the closing days of January, Sky Media hosted for MediaCom clients an engrossing conference on Data and its usefulness in transforming everyday work (allowing the brilliant punning conference title, for which I take no responsibility: “The things we do data day”).

Sir Dave Brailsford, Team Principal of Team Sky and the man responsible for winning 3 Tour de France races and 8 golds at the London Olympics, told us some of his secrets in using data to overcome conventional wisdom and confound beliefs based on anecdotes and gut instincts.

He pointed out that there’s a blizzard of data swirling around all of us these days.  The trick is to work out which variables you can detect which will really make a difference.  Be agile in trying them out, and equally agile in dropping the irrelevant ones.

Take the heart rate monitor for example.  Adopted by many as a heuristic in peak performance it turns out not to have suited every athlete.  Used too slavishly it can mislead.  How people feel is much more important that a heart rate 70% target zone.

Brailsford advocates simplifying the data down to two or three measures and then working towards progression of individual performance not a specific target.  He also revealed that he monitors moods and emotional states in the whole team all the time, not just athletes training for races.

Monitoring performance and aiming for progression is very powerful.  As soon as I started monitoring how much I walked with a pedometer (don’t need to charge as often as a FitBit!) I shifted from a mile and a half a day on average (I was quite sedentary by nature) to over five miles.

What would happen if I monitored my mood in a similar way?  Given that it is a no brainer that productivity and creativity are mood dependent could I triple those too?



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