Is it Possible to Teach BI?
Can you teach emotional intelligence (EI)? That was the title of an interesting article I came across recently. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself and others. Where EI comes from is typically defined in one of two major theories, or as a hybrid of the two. The first theory is that EI is the ability to have an understanding of one’s own and other people emotions. This theory implies that EI can be taught and that it is a skill that some people might be born with an inclination to do well in, but it must be honed and developed over time. Likewise, it can also be forgotten or overridden by other actions and behaviors.
The second definition considers EI a trait or characteristics of recognizing other people’s emotions and that EI is ultimately a primal characteristic which isn’t trainable and can’t be expected to increase or change very much over time. In this view, if I was born with a very low EI, while I might act like I have a high EI in how I treat others, it is just an act and indications which suggest otherwise is just a coping mechanism I’ve developed. But I still don’t appreciate others (or myself) I just am acting a certain way to get what I want.
The article mentioned earlier suggests strongly that EI is more an ability than a trait. The researchers in this study are trying to teach little children in school how to identify emotions and how to control and manage them. If they are correct, and EI ends up being a good predictor of future employment/school performance (another big question being debated and studied) then we can expect this to be added to future curriculums for schools nationwide.
As you likely already guessed it really made me ask the question, can business intelligence (BI) be taught? Can it be taught to people alone or to organizations as well? Is BI just a technical implementation of curiosity and data based decision making and thus is an innate trait or can BI be developed by teaching these skills and attributes to people and companies?
I like thought experiments, so here’s my take at answering these questions:
When I go into a new company, I almost instantly can determine if their “BI” department/organization is just producing operational reports or if they are truly using and creating BI. It is usually quite simple to see that second level of value in providing that imagination and what-if type answers to an organization hungry for a better understanding of their business and the world around them. Even with companies with immature BI technologies you can find Excel spreadsheets that define BI in every way even if it is not the best technology to implement it.
Based on that experience, it would seem that BI can be forced on people but if they don’t have the inclination to use it to its potential we should consider BI to be a trait. People who read this will instantly say, well budgets and other projects and…but that’s the point I think, if it is not a priority then it isn’t a priority.
On the other side of the coin, I’ve been with companies that started off with seemingly nothing, but with training, even hardened “old-school, gut based” decision makers start asking for data to help them craft their strategies and decisions. Many consultants that I’ve worked with over the years, including myself, started out as non-technical resources and over time have developed the skills to provide high quality BI solutions and perspective. These examples suggest that BI is an ability that can be harnessed and trained.
I suspect that if you really thought about it, every company would have a little of both as far as examples go. I am the eternal optimist and I think that companies and people can change and grow, but I don’t think it is as easy as just installing the software, regardless of what a vendor might promise you. To develop this BI mindset and competency I think it takes time and energy and no small amount of stubbornness. If you don’t already have a BI competency, you’ll need deliberate plans and a focused management to change the very core of how people think and how they treat one of their most valuable assets…data.
I suppose I don’t have a profound or easy answer on these questions, but it does beg for analysis and quite frankly some honest discussions in every organization. Here are some questions that might help get the conversation rolling:
- Do you have users or an organization that seeks out knowledge before making decisions or do they simply run reports and enter the values into an endless sea of spreadsheets which simply record what they did?
- Do your users see their reports and dashboards as check boxes required for their jobs or do they interrogate the data to find out what questions they should be asking?
- Does every new tool or process have an advocate asking how we do something with the data that comes out of it, or does everyone just assume that the “reporting will be there”?
- What are you willing to give up in order to become that data-driven organization you read about in the magazines and blogs?
In the end, every question must have a follow-up question, what if?