Two more execs on data analysts in the executive suite

An insurance executive I quoted a few weeks ago in this space spoke heresy: Not only do most data analysts he’s known lack the polish for presentations to execs, even worse was too narrow a point of view for leading an organization. It’s the Analytics Gap.

To that, the prolific tweeter and data scientist @data_nerd, Carla Gentry, reacted for many others in the decision support industry: “Huh?”

“I think a logical mind is perfect for business,” she tweeted to me when I inquired. “You must see the whole picture to run a successful business. Having an analytical mind helps.”

All true. Even the insurance executive and two others of that level — none of whom agreed to be named — would agree. The difference comes in the contrasting views of the “whole picture.”

Carla seems to assume that the whole picture can show itself in the data. The execs argue that it takes experience and judgement to see the real thing. “The conceit of BI,” emails a retired veteran of multiple technology startups and longtime acquaintance, “is that it has intrinsic value in its own right.”

Data analysts are narrowly focused, and rightly so. They’re looking for the certainty — or at least the illusion of certainty — that numbers provide. Execs — at least the good ones — know they are dealing with a messy and uncertain world. Human beings don’t behave as reliably as numbers. And executive decisions must deal with programs that stretch over many quarters, or even longer. In that time all manner of unplanned events may interfere and require solid executive leadership.

I still think that data analysts will someday find their profession to be a good route to the top. Sales and finance are good paths now, and each tends to breed limited candidates. But until data analysis evolves, it looks like the door to the executive suite may not open as readily as I’d thought it would.

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