GPS, Musicians, Analytics and Banking Culture

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20 November 2014
Bob Meara
Three things came across my Twitter feed the same afternoon. Consider the following and see if you think they are related: “When we depend too much on our GPS, we lose the will and skill to explore.” Tom Peters via Twitter, 20 November 2014 “A creative person is by definition inefficient. She/he is wandering along odd paths, backtracking; the life well-lived is mostly detours.” Tom Peters via Twitter, 20 November 2014 “Using analytics in decision-making requires banks to think more like musicians. If you start jamming, maybe something cool will come out, and it will sell a million records." Yours truly as quoted by Penny Crossman, Bank Technology News, 19 November 2014 First, I must say that by including my own comments among those of Tom Peters, I am in no way suggesting that my thinking is on par with his. It is not. Rather, my Twitter feed lit up since American Banker published the article referenced above, Bank CEOs Fear the Data-Driven Decision, and Peter’s tweets seemed both humorously consistent and coincident with Penny’s article as well as my previous blog post. What in the world do they have to do with each other? A common element emerges when viewed through the lens of organizational culture. Consider the culture in which you work. Is it a get there using the shortest path every time with no wrong turns (e.g., GPS) culture? Does it tolerate taking a longer route (even occasionally) to explore and better learn one’s surroundings? Does it value the unfamiliar? Does it encourage and reward learning new music? More radically, does it celebrate creative discovery beyond established norms? Are you even permitted to improvise, or are you directed to always play from the sheet music? If so, your organization likely won’t enjoy much innovation. As it relates to becoming a data-driven organization, banks need to learn how to be good at both using the GPS and at improvising – with discernment. Each approach has value. Too many senior managers in financial institutions, however, have never experienced the kind of culture that tolerates the “test and learn” way of using analytics. Instead, it seems strange and uncomfortable. It’s not easy to do things so differently. That’s why culture is such an important element in the skilful use of data analytics specifically and innovation more broadly. Technology may be an enabler or even a disrupter, but without a culture that values and rewards new ways of doing things, investment in the best technology will disappoint. Another quote to finish today’s post: “While there are many challenges [to becoming an analytical company], the most critical one is allocating sufficient attention to managing cultural and organizational change. We’ve witnessed many organizations whose analytical aspirations were squelched by open cultural warfare between the “quant jocks” and the old guard.” Thomas H. Davenport and Jeannie G. Harris, Competing on Analytics, HBR Press, page 124


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