Pulling Action Out of Information

An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, American writer and philosopher.

An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” — Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric.

Pulling Action Out of Information by Laura Stack #productivity

Do we already have a cure for cancer lurking somewhere in the huge mass of uncorrelated medical data accumulated in books, journals, and computers worldwide? How about a solution for global hunger? Or a way to knit broken bones in days?

These may all sound like fantasies to you, but some scientists suspect such solutions might already exist…if we could just fit the data together correctly. But our ability to accumulate data has long since outstripped our ability to digest and correlate it. Worse, no single person can learn everything about a single field anymore, much less multiple fields. This is unfortunate, since cross-fertilization between disciplines often stimulates breakthroughs. Simply put, we’re drowning in scientific data.

The same goes for business—and not just in terms of the managerial, marketing, and economic theory we’ve accrued since Adam Smith. Sure, we constantly add to the stack everyone shares. But beyond that, most organizations generate and collect more raw data than they can easily manage. So, how do you pull action out of the big pile of information you’ve accumulated—whether for marketing, sales, or internal improvement purposes? My RACE strategy can help you with that.

1. R = Raw data limitation. How many emails, calls, letters, and memos did you get today? Probably too many. And those represent just once facet of the info-iceberg: meeting notes, marketing strategies, budgets, sales figures, customer satisfaction stats, and all the other metrics most organizations create or collect can easily bury you. To avoid this fate, limit your incoming data. Use junk mail filters to cut back on email, create rules to automatically file and delete email, turn off your phone when you can, and delegate out as much of the inflow as possible.

2. A = Analytics involves the analysis of raw data in search of meaningful patterns, and the communication of those patterns to others. Basically, it turns raw data into useful information. This process can require a great deal of time and effort, because the patterns aren’t always obvious at a glance. With rare exceptions, other people in your group can handle analytics more cost-effectively than you can, so let them. Study their final reports and implement the next stage in the information-to-action process.

3. C = Cogitation. Think long and hard about the patterns your analyses reveal. How do they affect your team, your downstream consumers, and your organization as a whole? What trends do they reveal? How should you prioritize and act on the long- and short-term implications of those trends? Depending on your managerial style, you can handle this alone with pen and paper, or brainstorm in a meeting with your inner circle and a whiteboard.

4. E = Execution. This stage represents the leap from the abstract into action. Once you’ve decided what to do about your information, parcel action items out to your team members, and implement them according to priority. Get them off your plate as logically and efficiently as possible, so you can move on to the results and next challenges.

And They’re Off! When faced with a data-mountain, take the triage approach: focus on what truly matters so you can make the most productive use of your time. Pare down the data to a reasonable level, and delegate most of what remains. Crunch your numbers, think over the results, and then implement solutions to position your organization at the head of the pack. Put your heart and soul into the RACE, and you’ll soon leave your competitors in the dust.

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