Three quick notes after a week of travel:
First: Last week I posted about how Ethiopian Airlines took delivery of their first Boeing 787 airplanes before any other carrier in the US. This week, United and Boeing had what best could be described as a bad week with United’s 787s grounded by the FAA due to safety concerns. After the grounding, I boarded a United flight and as we took our seats the flight crew ran the standard commercial video on the entertainment system. It was Jeff Smisek (CEO of United) touting United’s new 787 Dreamliner and how customers would be lining up to ride in the new planes. It was the first time I’ve ever seen one of those videos strike a nerve with the passengers.
They laughed out loud at United. On a United plane.
One would think, in this instantaneous world, that United would instruct their crews to throw in an old video until the 787s are flying again. Either way, the lesson for large corporations that are in the public eye is to make sure the marketing message is aligned with the news cycle, and that doesn’t mean weekly. It means hourly.
Second: I was driving in Manhattan – something I tend to avoid – and fired up Hertz’s “NeverLost” GPS system to help me find the best route to LaGuardia. It couldn’t locate the satellite for several minutes, so I went to the Apple Maps app via Siri and asked for directions. This means I was at the mercy of Apple Maps (which earlier in the week, when I clicked on a NYC address on 55th, provided me with a map of 55th street in Lubbock, Texas) and a non-functional Hertz GPS. The problems worsened with the Hertz system came on line, and began to argue with Siri. I promptly took a circuitous route throughout Queens until I killed Siri and put myself in the hands of Hertz. Lesson: read the map before jumping into the rental car.
Third: We are awash in stories and commentary pointing to the awesome power of analytics and deep reserves of data. As someone who has been in both the analytics and intelligence business, I have some misgivings about all of this. During my travels this week, I read two things that underscore the challenges inherent in making decisions with mountains of data. First this quote, from a 2003 essay from Malcolm Gladwell called “Connecting the Dots”:
The central challenge of intelligence gathering has always been the problem of “noise”: the fact that useless information is vastly more plentiful than useful information.
The second from this article titled “Why innovation is so hard”:
“Stop collecting excessive data. It stops you from running meaningful experiments. Better to make a little, sell a little, and learn a lot.
Bottom line: sometimes data gives us the false confidence that we can turn the subjective into the objective. It also can cause organizations to favor “perfect eventually” over “good today”.
The task, therefore, for innovators is not to get more data, but to understand what available data is helpful (not much, as it usually turns out) and to act in the face of conflicting information.
As Dorothea Brande said: “Act boldly, and unseen forces will come to your aid”. That is great wisdom indeed for tomorrow’s leaders who will not be faced with too little information, but with too much.