Making Decisions When There Is No Data

<< back Page 2 of 2

What Happens When Data Is Gone?

If data is the new oil, then the pandemic showed us what a world without it can look like to some companies. It wasn’t pretty. Take a look at how your business could handle a lack of data. The question isn’t really hypothetical. For example, look at the mobile advertising industry right now and how hard it was hit when one vendor, Apple, decided to limit the amount of data it shares. At any given moment, data may disappear, especially if you rely on partners for it.

The overall trends of data privacy and regulation guarantee that companies will have access to fewer datapoints in the future. Consumers are becoming more self-conscious about what data they share with companies, and the days of unlimited data consumption are over.

For many executives, it means relying on intuition. Intuition and data-driven don’t always align. I have worked with executives who reject any opinion or idea if there’s no data to back it. They have taken the rhetorical arguments of ancient Greece and supercharged them with data.

That works well, as long as your data machine keeps ingesting more datapoints, but eventually you will face situations when data can’t help you and might even hurt you. I don’t think any economists had “global pandemic” on their Bingo cards for potential catastrophes. Look at how your team handles intuition. Do you reject these gut-feeling reactions or is there space for them? It’s great when intuition is backed by data, but it can also stand on its own.

Making Decisions in the Darkness

When I started working with tourism agencies, I knew there were certain things that had to be tackled right away. We couldn’t just ease into the project and slowly get familiar with each other. Here are three steps you need to take in a crisis to start making better decisions:

First, calm everyone around you, including suppliers, customers, and employees. It’s OK to not know what is going on or what will happen in the near future. No one knew when restrictions would be lifted or if things would get worse.

However, you can decrease emotions by taking small actions. For example, the best airlines offered full refunds and travel extensions for tickets. You might not have been able to reach customer support, but you knew that your credit was safe for a couple of years.

Second, pare down to the essentials. In tourism, companies such as Airbnb secured a loan and changed the focus to nearby listings. Airbnb survived the pandemic and is now growing again.

In other industries, it was about doubling down on growth. Zoom became a household name and invested heavily to keep up with growth. I have never seen as many product updates as what I saw from Zoom in 2020 and 2021.

Third, give everyone a voice, but become decisive. It’s great to allow people to provide ideas on how to reach customers or what projects to focus on. However, you need someone to make clear decisions.

Crises require innovation—which is where multiple voices shine—but it also requires compromises.

One of the best tools for doing this is a framework I developed called the 3 Os. It stands for Outcomes, Options, and Obstacles.

Teams decide what outcome they want, explore different options for getting there, and think about any obstacles that could get in the way. The framework is meant to be easy to use. Once you have a framework that can be explained to others, it is much easier to involve them. For example, I worked with a marketing team where the VP of marketing was constantly making all the decisions.

By using the 3 Os framework, she was able to start delegating and involving the rest of her team. Team members could contribute ideas for potential outcomes, options, and obstacles. All ideas can be ranked using an objective criteria, allowing the team to collectively find the best answer. The VP could accept any suggestion but then gently guide it using a scoring system that made sense; she didn’t have to reject an idea based on her opinion or clout.


When Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) took over as U.S. president in 1933, the situation was bleak. For many people, the Great Depression was already in Year Five or Six, with no end in sight. The FDR administration went on to pass an incredible amount of legislation under the New Deal banner, but it all started with the confidence FDR portrayed in speeches and his famous Fireside Chats.

Crises are handled not by people who know all the answers, but those who are confident in their ability to find them. Freezing like a deer in the headlights because of a lack of data is unacceptable.

You need to move, or you will be hit by the oncoming cars. Data has been a game changer for companies, but we can’t let it become a crutch. Decisions will always have to be made, regardless of what we know.

<< back Page 2 of 2