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Getting emotional with business analytics

Thu, 11th Feb 2016
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Business analytics can provide a major stimulus for transformational change. Yet neuroscience and psychology show us that people are typically not “wired” to engage with facts. This is why Alan D. Duncan, research director at Gartner, believes that analytics leaders striving for a data-driven culture must take positive steps to engage with emotions.

“When it comes to using analytics for influence, the facts are of little importance until the psychological and emotional aspects of an issue have been addressed,” says Mr. Duncan. “Analytics leaders must therefore find ways to engage with and overcome these psychological resistance factors if they are to ensure that data is presented in a compelling manner that supports the right decisions and drives actions that add value.

Connect emotionally with stakeholders Quantitatively oriented people — such as analysts, accountants, engineers and technologists — are drawn to data, understand it and are able to analyse, interpret and draw conclusions from it. Many stakeholders, however, often base their decisions on emotional responses. Emotional triggers rather than rational ones are the predominant psychological decision drivers.

Quantitative analysts need to find ways of engaging with stakeholders on a more emotional wavelength. That's not to say they should ignore the data, but instead should try couching it in terms that connect with the emotional responses of their audience. They can do this by developing narratives that create a framework for the core information, telling stories that engage on the audience's wavelength and using data visualisation to make information consumable and engaging.

Avoid the psychological responses that inhibit engagement with data Data may be non-judgmental and unemotional, but when people are put in the mix, the results are far from guaranteed. Analytics leaders must make their stakeholders feel safe before proceeding and encourage them to find their own answers and identify resulting actions for themselves.

Similarly, cognitive biases are modes of thinking that distort the rational perspective and steer people away from fact-based and systemic judgments. These biases are the result of the brain's long-term conditioning and subconscious learning modes. Analytics leaders must learn to identify and adjust for these cognitive biases when presenting analytical outputs.

Apply critical thinking when presenting the results of analysis Making logical mistakes can lead to poor decisions. Logical fallacies will trap the unwary, whether they are presented inadvertently or with a deliberate intention to direct an argument in a particular direction. To truly overcome these fallacious arguments and make a strong, fact-based case, analytics leaders must apply critical thinking and sceptical scrutiny. They must be champions of analytical thinking: dig deeper, keep asking awkward questions and be habitually curious; never take things at face value — seek out the hidden opportunities that everyone else is overlooking.

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