Brain Chatter: The Dawn of the Yawn - Does Data Make Us Slower?

October 13, 2017 Ron Tite

You probably could have guessed this but… Data Science isn’t exactly in my wheelhouse.

I may be a CEO now but originally, I was a comedian, writer, and Creative Director - not your typical left-brain occupations. Plus, I give entire keynotes called, “Your Stories Are More Important Than Your Data”. I truly believe that. But it doesn’t mean I don’t see the value of Data. I do.

Data helps people like me generate more effective content because it can be grounded in more accurate insights and it can be customized down to an individual’s unique actions, beliefs, and preferences. Data does that and I couldn’t be more thankful. Thanks to data, we can get to more compelling work faster.

Or can we?

Does the proliferation of data actually make us slower? Does constant data consultation get in the way of executing at the break-neck speeds we need to? Is data a barrier to efficiency when we’re expected to do more for less money with less people in less time?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Brian Costa and Jared Diamond certainly raised the question.

I’m a huge fan which might make me a little biased but I don’t think there’s a sport with better data capabilities than professional baseball. The stats being collected and shared in real time is mind-boggling.

On any day, I can look at any single pitch in any game from any pitcher and see the difference in velocity between when the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand and when it gets to home plate (not to mention the angle of its drop along the way). Even more miraculous? I can see it on my phone 3 seconds after it actually happened. The data capabilities and the number variables in the game means we can probably find out Jose Bautista’s on-base percentage versus Florida-born left handers throwing a knuckle-curve on days that begin with the letter T when the temperature is 1-2 degrees above seasonal norms after a woman named “Karen” has sung the US national anthem. Go Karen, go.

That’s great for TV but it’s in the middle of the game itself that is closest to what you do on a daily basis. Managers have access to more data to help them make the right decisions.

The result: Baseball has never been slower.

The length of an average game increased by 19 minutes (since 1987) and is now over 3 hours long. The gap between balls in play is (on average) 3 minutes and 48 seconds long. That’s the highest it’s ever been.

With more data at their fingertips, managers are changing pitchers more often.

They’re manipulating match-ups.

They’re using defensive shifts.

And they’re pushing for more strikeouts which generated the highest ever pitches thrown per batter.

The decisions might be smarter but the game is becoming boring as hell. Fans are being forced to spend more time watching a less exciting product. As the article states:

"baseball is being brought to a standstill by the very phenomenon that has revolutionized it in recent years - the embrace of data analytics to drive strategy.”

Who wants to watch that, let alone work in it?

Sadly, baseball’s not unlike many large organizations. Between server stacks filled with customer data and countless profiles with unstructured social data changing with every status update, the proliferation of the numbers has created either decision paralysis (where nothing is getting done) or a process that consults the data for every decision including the percentage of saturation in an Instagram post.

If we’re just going to consult the data on every single decision, what do I need a team of marketers for? Design the assets, press go, and we’ll be done with it, right? Let’s all bunt our way to success! Ugh.

The thrill is in high-risk plays. The fun is in taking chances. We’re more excited when we don’t know the outcome. Most importantly, our greatest business wins don’t come from the expected or the conservative. They come from doing the thing that no one expects you to do. If you want mediocrity served with your inefficiency, have at it.

But if you truly want a home run, you have to put up with a greater risk of striking out.

Baseball may very well be getting more strategic and the numbers may guide the decisions but for most of us, our game doesn’t wait. We don’t have 1 competitor, we have thousands. And they’re all working at lightning speed. Sometimes, our in-game strategy requires us to use what we know, go with our gut, and make the call we feel will lead us to victory.

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