A closer look at quadrant 2: more data, fewer answers

Please read up Part 0 and Part 1, to be up to speed with this series.

Executives are constantly facing pressure to make the right decision. They will make the best decision they can with the information they have. Their desire for more information is often at odds with the organizations’ ability to provide it. As an example, one frustrated executive told a colleague of mine, “just give me all the data”. And on the surface, this may seem straightforward, just provide “all the data”. The problem is the amount of noise in the data and the effort to get it all in the first place.

How do you get the right data? The answer lies in our 2×2 matrix (Figure 1 – problem with being data driven matrix | outcomes). On our journey of being data driven, there is a temptation to move to the upper left in search of more data. After all, more data means we’re data driven, right? Unfortunately, no. Moving into the upper-left quadrant often leads to data dragnet. Let’s take a deep look at the 2nd quadrant, data dragnet. And then I’ll answer the question, why does it matter if you decide here?

Figure 1 – Problem with being data driven matrix

A quick refresher. Work built in the data dragnet quadrant is with all the data you can get from the perspective you have. This is analogous to fishing trawlers scraping the bottom of the ocean (Figure 2 – problem with being data driven matrix | analogy). They’re grabbing at everything, hoping for something. Resulting in more data but fewer answers.

Figure 2 – Problem with being data driven matrix | analogy

If you decide in the 2nd quadrant, some pitfalls immediately arise. Pitfalls like having too much data and analysis paralysis. Is there such a thing as too much data? Yes. If you go after data without a strategy, you’ll end up with too many data sources that aren’t related to the decisions at hand. Too many sources increase the noise, that is, more pieces of information that don’t add value. Plus, more data sources will have a negative effect on the limited resources you have—both the computing power and the time humans spend churning through the data. Trying to find the answer is like sifting through the contents of the dragnet. You have a lot of stuff, but what elements are actually helpful? While you’re trying to find useful data, you’re burning through computing power and your people’s precious time.

When faced with too much data, analysis paralysis often sets in for many people. Psychologists say the root cause of analysis paralysis is anxiety1. We fear choosing the wrong option. The result is endless wrangling over each source and an inability to pick one. It’s easy to get bogged down in analyzing many options until it becomes impossible to choose one. This inaction leads to missed opportunities.

The antidote, instead of increasing your data, increase your perspectives by moving into quadrant 3 “fishing trip with friends”. We’ll take a closer look at this quadrant in the next article in this series.

My personal data driven story continued

Our data driven journey continued by trying to answer these questions:

1. If we had a dollar to spend, where should we spend it?

2. Do we have a 1-N list, a prioritized list for ranges?

3. If they spent that dollar, what would be the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th order effects of that decision?

While working closely with the USAF Civil Engineers (CE) we initially thought, let’s get all the data related to ranges and combat arms. Note: Combat Arms, a subset under the USAF Security Forces, is the career field responsible for providing weapons training and are the operational managers of ranges. Although our intentions seemed to be logical, getting as much data related to our questions, we immediately ran into problems.

As mentioned in the article, the processing power we had access to couldn’t process the data. And I personally ran into analysis paralysis. There were so many columns to sift through that after a while, you began making rational arguments to keep everything. Which as you can imagine, detracts from the whole exercise. Realizing the anti-pattern, we were getting ready to execute, we quickly abandoned the approach, for a more surgical one. I’ll share those steps in the next article. As we progress through the 6-part series, we’ll continue walking you through my personal data driven journey as it relates to the 2×2 matrix.

Making decisions is tough. Making decisions with limited data is tough. Making decisions with “all the data” is also tough. More isn’t always better. Choosing how you use your resources to make informed decisions is paramount. The load balance of your talent and the computing power are finite. Although the temptation is immense to go get all the data, it routinely doesn’t provide the answers you’re looking for. You end up with more data but fewer answers.

Instead, broadening your perspective by surrounding yourself with people from different industries and life experiences increases your diversity of thought. The additional context helps answer the why of your question. By the end of this 6-part series, you’ll have a clearer understanding of where you are today and getting to Nirvana. In our next article, we’ll take a deep look at the 3rd quadrant, fishing trip with friends.


Jim Eselgroth

Jim Eselgroth

Deputy, Chief Technology Officer

As Definitive Logic’s Deputy Chief Technology Officer, Jim helps government leaders optimize mission outcomes by leveraging technology, thought leadership, and change management techniques. Jim ensures excellence in the delivery of full life-cycle digital transformation activities, long-term technology strategy and vision planning, and innovation project portfolio management. 

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