Why is being data Savvy not the right goal?
A “simplistic” graph is doing the rounds (again) and is copied below. The two-axis links the quality of a decision and the person's capability with data. It infers that boards, executives and senior leadership need to be “data-savvy” if they are to make better decisions. Data Savvy is a position between being “data-naive or data-devoid” and “drunk on data.” The former has no data or skills; the latter is too much data or cannot use the tools. Data Savvy means you are skilled with the correct data and the right tools.
This thinking is driven by those trying to sell data training by simplifying a concept to such a point its becomes meaningless but is easy to sell/ buy and looks great as a visual. When you don’t have enough time to reflect on the graph and the message, it looks logical, inspired and correct - it is none of these things. The basis of the idea is that a board or senior leadership team who are data-savvy will make better decisions, based on the framing that if you are naive or drunk on data, you will make poor decisions.
The first issue I have is that if the data does not have attestation, your capability (data-savviness) will make no difference to the quality of the decision. One could argue that you will test the data if data-savvy, but this is also untrue as most boards cannot test the data, relying on the organisations' processes and procedures to ensure “quality” data. This is a wild assumption.
It is worth searching for what “data-savvy” means and reading a few articles. You will find that many put becoming data-savvy as a step in the journey to being data-driven. To a second point: data-driven means you will always be late. To wait for enough data to reduce the risk to match your risk framework means that you will be late in the decision-making process. Data-driven does not make you fast, agile, ahead, innovative or adaptive. Data-driven makes you late, slow, behind and a follower.
Is the reality of wanting to be data-savvy or a desire to be data-driven that you look to use data to reduce risk and therefore become more risk-averse, which means you miss the signals that would make you genuinely innovative?
The question as a CDO (data or digital) we should reflect on is “how do we reconcile that we want to be first, innovative, creative or early; but our processes, methods, and tools depend on data that means we will always be late!” The more innovative we want to be, the less data we will have and the more risk we need to take, which does not align to the leadership, culture or rewards/ incentives that we have or operate to.