Making Decisions When There Is No Data

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In mid-2020, I got a chance to work with several government tourism agencies. Their mandate was to promote local attractions and offer support to partners such as hotels, resorts, and other organizations. As you can imagine, things weren’t going well for these agencies.

I remember looking at their data reports and seeing unprecedented drops in volume. With every country imposing restrictions and lockdowns, no one was traveling. One agency stood out; it was completely frozen by the situation. It couldn’t decide on anything. Even publishing the latest COVID numbers was difficult.

The same thing happened to many businesses. They completely froze in the face of a crisis and a lack of data. We have spent the last 20 years convincing every company of the value of data and for the most part, companies have invested in the latest technologies.

The problem is that we have created an expectation that every decision needs to be supported by data. Making decisions that aren’t data-driven can seem reckless and antiquated. In short, we are missing the forest—growing the business, increasing profit—for the trees—the means of getting there.

Is data becoming a crutch? The tourism agency I mentioned above was unable to make decisions without data. That is a problem and one that we can prevent in the future.

Are You Ready for the Next Crisis?

Crises or challenges require special thinking. I was going to mention how you never know when a crisis will hit, but you should always be prepared.

Lucky for us, the next challenging period is just around the corner. Most economists expect a recession sometime in 2023, which will once again put pressure on businesses.

Future crises will not be identical to the pandemic. The lack of in-person work, along with rapidly changing consumer behavior and nonexistent data in some industries, was rare. However, businesses should be thinking about their weaknesses and how to tackle them.

Here are some questions to think about:

Can you quickly identify high-priority projects and a way to pause the rest?

Good times allow companies to invest in all kinds of projects, even those with little chance of success. Being able to quickly identify the high ROI projects is crucial in tough times.

Do you have technology for communication, remote work, and so forth?

One client couldn’t do any work because its mandatory VPN didn’t work well outside the office. If technology will fail at the smallest of issues, you need new technology.

Can you triage data based on accuracy and relevancy?

The tourism agencies realized that the best data during the pandemic was consumer sentiment. It reflected how ready people were to travel and spend time with others. You may have less data in a crisis, and you need to identify what actually matters.

Do you have a decision-making process that takes emotions out of it?

A crisis is a highly emotional time and requires a decision-making process. It’s the same idea as pilots using checklists. If a plane is encountering an issue, you don’t want to freak out. You need something, like a checklist or process, to keep you grounded.

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