Facts Beat Fear: Do You Fear Change?

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by Morten Middelfart

I will dedicate this entry to fear and how facts can overcome it. Overcoming fear is, in my mind, extremely important since competitive use of Big Data is leading a big change in controlling the data underlying organizational decision making. (See my previous entry).

For more than two decades in the Business Intelligence and Analytics field, we have continued to say that change is the only constant. Leaders and managers have always nodded when asked if they felt that data flowed fast and they needed it processed into actionable decisions faster. Therefore, I am sure that most feel they are already very capable of dealing with change.

I will argue that the “change to come” is much different from what we have seen before. The reason being that we need to change our mindset about “truth” from an organizational perspective. In the future, the nature of Big Data will offer us more indications and incomplete truths that cannot be verified. Furthermore, we will have to rely more on computer algorithms that we are not always able to second-guess.

To fully embrace the potential of Human-Computer Synergy we must learn to navigate in this big ocean of uncontrolled data – but it can be scary to trust data that may not be as trustworthy as we are used to. It’s a change in the way we operate.

Fear is essentially a survival mechanism that made us capable to evolve in nature. Fear was in our brain from the dawn of humans, and whenever we heard a branch break or a sound that we were not familiar with, we would immediately think to run and climb a tree and hope to not be eaten by a fierce animal.

In other words, fear is a quick response from our primal brain that whenever something is strange, whenever something is new, that it is probably something trying to eat us. I grant that this definition of fear may sound like paranoia, but my point is that it just doesn’t really matter. The fact is that we, as human beings, tend to be fairly negative towards change.

The “Top-Gun” of applied facts in actionable decisions

To overcome this fear I propose that we should focus on knowing all we can about ourselves as an organization internally. If we successfully embrace business intelligence and analytics for the data we own, or at least control, we will then know our “True North” as an organization. Knowing exactly who you are as an individual is the first key to deal with the absolute uncertainty around us; the same holds for organizations.

If you know me and have been involved with TARGIT for the past ten years, you will know that this proposal is nothing new. I believe that we should be monitoring the right KPIs for the data we are in control of, to know exactly what we are doing with it, and also circling through “Top-Gun” fighter-pilot instructor John Boyd’s fundamental four phases – Observation, Orientation, Decision & Action.

Applying business intelligence to these four phases will essentially guide us in any challenge. We Observe our surroundings, looking at the data with an expectation of what should be. Then we Orient ourselves to figure out the root causes, trends and so on. Based on what we have discovered, we make an intelligent, fact-based Decision and take Action. This process is continuously repeated by each individual that comprises your organization.

With this OODA, you will find that this is probably the most you can do as an organization, if you apply your core competencies. If you do that, as fast as possible, and faster than your competition, you will win over time. If you don’t, or if your core competencies aren’t good enough to be able to adapt yourself as fast as competition, you’re going to die. It is simply Survival of the Fittest.

Fearless Human-Computer Synergy

Assuming that we successfully travel though OODA loops with optimal Human-Computer Synergy, we have the best chance of dodging any fear we encounter. In fact, I believe that any fear we have “learned” in this life can be “unlearned” based on the following study.

I conducted a study earlier this the year where I asked 200 skydivers if they had “The Falling Dream” prior to their skydiving career – the dream in which you fall and then you wake up right before you hit the ground. Just under 75% answered “Yes”. Then I asked whether the dream had changed after skydiving such that it continued past the fall, where they did not wake up but continued dreaming. (Mind you, we are not talking about a dream of falling with a parachute!)

The responses showed a very strong correlation between having a large number of skydives and the dream changing. For example, 70% of those with more than 2000 jumps had observed the change in the dream as described. More than 54% of those with more than 1000 jumps, and 38% of those with less had a similar experience.

The interesting thing about this is that “The Falling Dream” is not based on experience, and is thus “pre-programmed” in our brains. By presenting the brain with a significant number of facts that beat this fear, we have successfully “re-programmed” our brain. My thinking is that if we can change inherently deep layers in our mind using facts, it seems very promising for changing the fears that are rooted in learned behaviors such as: fear of organizational change, fear of changes in customer behavior, fear of doing things differently.

When contemplating the potential of computing we should never forget that we have the most advanced learning and pattern recognizing technology inside out own skull; using the fact that traditional computers can provide we can reprogram undesired blockers using facts. To me the greatest potentials lie in Human-Computer Synergy at the point where we use computers to become greater humans.

With this study, I hope to inspire the thinking of how computers can make us more courageous – after all, who wants to live in fear?

Click HERE to see the base jump that inspired this blog.

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