Not data-driven: purpose-driven and data-assisted

Let’s get our priorities straight, A.I. can wait

Every organization seeminly wants to be data-driven, but data can’t drive anything at all. Data, data analysis and data-driven decision making have to go back to the little box that they belong in. Data can’t tell us where to go. Not even when it comes to us in the form of A.I. Or, especially not in the case of A.I.

First of all thanks to Fabiënne, who reminded me to write this article. There had been an irritation and an uncomfortable feeling in my belly for a long time, concerning a term that seems to be thrown
around left and right ever more often. “Data-driven”.

Don’t get me wrong, as a tech blogger and a marketer and copywriter for an IT consultancy company, I am guilty of it myself more than I would like to admit here. “The data-driven housing corporation”. “How do you turn your company into a data-driven company?” “Seven steps to a truly
data-driven corporate culture”. And I’m not the only one.

But perhaps these more or less “old school” organizations becoming data-driven in the way that they seem to be trying now, should be the least of our concern.

Could true A.I. spell the pinnacle of decision making being driven by data? It seems everyone wants to be data-driven, but if you think about it: data
can’t drive anything. What we need instead are purpose, and ethics. These are the things that we need to drive our decision making. And data, data analysis and emerging technology like A.I. can assist us, if they agree to wait their turn.

The power steering-driven car

Consider the example of a car. If we apply a particular innovation when fabricating our new car, which makes the windscreen much larger and offers much clearer visibility than previous models, would
we call it windshield-driven?

Or if we greatly improve the built-in navigation systems or the power steering, do we suggest that these
parts are what drives the car?

It’s gasoline and a combustion engine powering the car (in most cases,
still). And the driver is the thing that controls the car. The desire of that driver to arrive at a certain destination is what makes the car come into motion at all. So a human, with a certain destination or purpose in mind – that’s what drives the car.

Simon says: Purpose

As Simon Sinek, the management guru who seems to know a lot
about the desires, dreams and quirks of my generation, the Millennials – said it: first Why, then How, then What. Having a higher goal or purpose is what makes the difference, in everything you do. From marketing to sales to product or services.

“People Don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it.”

Purpose, is what it is.

Data, data analysis and “data-driven” have to go back to their respective little boxes. Away from the Why-box, and back into the How-box. Data cannot tell you where to go. Your gut feeling can. Ethics can, empathy can, and a clear vision can. If you’ve decided on a goal, data can help you get there.

Purpose-driven, data-assisted

The same goes for a housing corporation. Or a logistics company. Or a retailer or your no-doubt really cool new tech startup. Or with the
culture in any organization, and with your personal development. A human with a goal or purpose in mind, that’s what drives things forward. And ethics and empathy make great guides.

Purpose, ethics and data

Power steering, a particularly clear windscreen; data, data analysis and awesome algorithmic agents – these things can only make your trip easier. Provided they are smartly and conveniently applied.

So should we have less focus now on supporting our work, our marketing,
decision-making and our operations with data? Should we be less excited about creating (General) A.I.? I don’t think so.

But the wording of the whole thing can be a little different, here and there. Maybe that will help to adjust the focus in our way of thinking.

We need to be purpose-driven, ethics-guided and data-assisted in making the right decisions to actually reach our greater goals. Driven by a mission; supported by data.

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