Big Data or the Big Picture?
There is a lot of talk in business circles about the usefulness of Big Data and the ability to derive meaningful customer and strategic insights from crunching a large volume and variety of data sets. While I am a believer in the value of data, I am also equally a fan of “seeing the big picture” as a way of gaining insight about business and in particular, corporate culture.
Let me give you an example of seeing the big picture. And in this case, a very big picture.
It’s called “space archeology” and has been pioneered by Dr. Sarah Parcak, associate professor of Anthropology and director of the Laboratory for Global Observation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Basically, instead of searching for archeological historical sites on the ground, Sarah used imagery obtained from orbiting satellites to find previously undiscovered historical sites and to be able to see these sites even when covered over by agriculture and urbanization. You might be interested in watching the TED talk by Dr. Parcak.
“This isn’t just another ‘gee whiz’ toy,” she says. “It’s a genuine scientific tool with proven, published results from Egypt to Syria to Italy to Easter Island. It has so much potential and possibility. It transforms every aspect about how we see and understand our past.”
By seeing the big picture, Dr. Parcak has been able to use satellite and infrared imagery to locate hundreds of undiscovered sites in Egypt and to gain new insights into the culture and history of ancient Egypt.
The Big Picture and Corporate Culture
My view of our planet was a glimpse of divinity. — Edgar Mitchel, Apollo 14 astronaut
Most of the current avenues for exploring corporate culture involve “point in time” surveys, assessments and at times, focus groups. Questions are asked of a large number of employees within the company (Big Data) and scores are often grouped into categories and then correlated with company performance to infer the strengths and weaknesses of the current culture and to suggest how culture impacts performance.
To me, this approach seems dry and somehow unfulfilling. Maybe that’s why many senior executives and CEOs still find the concept of corporate culture to “fluffy” to take seriously. However, when we take a big picture view of an organization, say a chart describing revenue growth or headcount growth, it immediately begins to suggest a story of evolution and change with profound implications on leadership, management, strategy and performance.
Take the following company revenue growth chart over the past years as an example. Like looking down on a particular country or region from an orbiting satellite, here we see the “big picture” growth history of a company. Not just at one particular time period, but over the whole life of this company. It’s not space archeology, it’s “corporate culture archeology”.
This big picture view of a company suggests some areas ripe for investigation to better understand the current corporate culture in relation to the past historical cultures?
- Are the cultures of A, B and C different?
- If so, how?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of each of these three cultures?
- How aligned are each of these three cultures with their relevant business and strategic objectives?
- What changed between cultures B and C and why?
- Are elements of Culture B impacting the recent revenue decline? How?
- What are the major culture change levers that can be used to improve performance?
I’m certain you can think of another dozen important and insightful areas to explore given this big picture view of the organization.
Let’s see where big picture corporate culture archeology will take us in our quest to better align leadership, culture and performance!
The big picture doesn’t just come from distance; it also comes from time. ~Simon Sinek
Written and Posted by: John R. Childress
Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
John also writes thriller novels!