You’ve likely heard about the wonders of big data and the
ability of technology and analytic models to help people make better decisions
faster. Unfortunately, one aspect of big data that’s rarely discussed is that
it’s the ideal technology for companies that have perfected “The Big

Dodge City

You may work in one of these organizations and not even
realize it. Or, perhaps you spent time in other organizations, and are slowly
losing your mind in a confining environment where no decision can be made
without dozens of meetings, and taking a controversial stand is as much an anathema
as a dentist without floss.

These types of organizations suffer from a deep
malaise where unwillingness to make a decision is often wrapped in talk of
teamwork, consensus, or even “not messing with success.” While these flowery
terms sound inclusive and progressive, when they’re used to support a culture
where decision making is frowned upon or even punished, it’s often a clue that there are onerous issues at what might be an otherwise successful company
and pleasant place to work.

The big disruption

Big data enters “Big Dodge” corporate cultures
like a bull in a china shop after a liter of bourbon. First of all, the technologies
and collaboration required among IT, analytic teams, and business users demand
strong and firm decision making and a flexible plan that accommodates rapidly
changing technologies and methodologies. High-priced consultants might be
employed to move things along, but in Big Dodge companies, their recommendations
and admonitions become expensive shelf decorations rather than motivators for

Should a company with a Big Dodge culture get a big data
project off the ground, be prepared for the results of big data analysis to go
against the status quo, requiring a company to make rapid and controversial
decisions. If your company takes six weeks of meetings to ponder a minor update
to the employee handbook, what will happen if your big data model predicts
today’s cash cow product is headed for irrelevance due to a previously
unnoticed nuance in the marketplace? What if you’re targeting the wrong
customer or, worse yet, your business model looks like that of Kodak circa

Preempting the dodge

It’s easy to focus on the technical and statistical aspects
of big data as you prepare to launch an initiative, but equally important is
looking at the culture of your company and starting to discuss how you’ll react
if the analysis produces something surprising, or a change requires rapid
action. Critical to this process is determining who should be empowered to make
decisions, and how to engage the right people in the company in the process,
without creating an open forum where anyone and everyone can second guess what
happens after the analysis is complete.

Simply talking about how your company might change its
strategy based on the outcome of a big data project should demonstrate whether
you’ll be facing the Big Dodge or a seminal moment where your leadership comes
together to move in a new direction. Propose a couple of likely “safe” outcomes
from the analysis, as well as an outcome or two that will prove controversial
or challenge some of the assumptions that underlie your current corporate

If your company does get bogged down in debate and paralysis even
before an analytical project begins, it may be worth pausing your big data
efforts and attacking the deeper organizational and decision-making challenges
your company is facing. While these efforts may be less exciting than a major big data project, the latter will never be successful without the former.