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Unleashing the true power of data requires empathy not analytics

In the new landscape of data-centric business processes, it can be easy to forget about empathy.

We are a data business. It is our food. Our source of everything. From data, we can find ways to improve throughput, increase productivity, recover more metal, improve equipment life and so on. It’s remarkable what you can do with the computational power and advanced tools and that are now available. So, like many businesses we are continually looking for more ways to truly unleash the power of data. It becomes tempting to believe that the solutions to all our problems can be found in data, either through analysis or automation. This is not the case though. At the end of the day, no matter how much insight is derived or how much a process can be automated, it’s a living human person that needs to decide to do something to achieve the promised benefit.

People solve problems. People make improvements. Data tells them what to do or where to focus. What data doesn’t do is make them do it. Many people reading this article have examples of where they have shown someone a clear black-and-white factual and data-driven argument to implement a change only to have it ignored. Many of us have experienced examples of people ignoring recommendations that would liberate enormous economic value. Sometimes it can beggar belief. How is it possible for someone to ignore something that is clearly compelling?

One of my teachers drummed it into my head that I was the only one who could instruct my mouth to move and my vocal chords to activate. No-one else could do that; I alone was capable of those actions and I had choice. What I chose depended entirely on what motivated me more – my desire to get a laugh from the class or my willingness to comply with the rules. The people we are trying to help also have choice and like my 4th grade self, what they choose depends on what motivates them. Some sophisticated algorithm will not tell us what this is but empathy has a better chance. Putting ourselves in their shoes opens us up to understanding what drives them, or what scares them. Putting them at the centre of the story is more powerful than putting the data at the centre of the story. It’s not easy and there is no winning formula but considering their story and how they become the hero has a better chance of creating the impetus for change than any rational argument. This is because they need to place their trust in you and trust is not a data thing, it’s a belief thing.

Therefore, we have committed to having empathy for our customers as a core value. Whilst we are a data business we recognise, from our own experience, that often its more helpful to stand side by side with someone instead of pointing out all the things they could do better.

George McCullough,
Director of Strategy, Interlate