Don’t Let Your Customer Confuse Talent with Tools
Updated: Apr 23, 2019
By Mike Kennedy
I heard a story once about great piano player that gave a magnificent performance and afterwards a member of the audience came up to him. Without commenting on the performance or talent as a pianist, the audience member simply asked “What kind of piano did you use?” The moral of this story is that the audience member was confusing the results of a great performance and the capability of the performer with the tool used.
A great piano player can give a great performance irrespective of the piano being used. The performance is great because the performer has the talent to make it great. The piano is just a tool, even if it may be one of the finest pianos money can buy. But if I was to attempt the same performance on the best piano, the results would be astonishingly worse. I might have the best tool for a piano performance but I lack the capability as a piano player.
I bring this story up to make the point that we as decision scientists and analysts have a great many tools at our disposal to perform our work. Some tools are better than others; some are very task specific; some are commercial applications; and some are custom built. They are all tools we use when exercising our talents and capabilities as analysts. Tools don’t solve problems or help generate insight from data rich environments - we as analysts do. The tools we use are merely instruments at our disposal. Every profession has tools they use. Dentists, doctors, financial experts, carpenters, and masons (to name only a few) all have tools at their disposal in the performance of their profession. The tools themselves do not perform any functions except when operated by the professional. I would make the same argument for the data scientist and analyst. All of our tools are static and benign implements until put to use by the analytics professional.
I experienced the problem of a customer focusing on the tools several years ago while working for a large organization. We were making our final report and submission on work completed. As part of this work we had access to a large data set from the organization. Our analysts delved into the data and started to realize we could provide significant insights into what was happening with the organization’s operations. At the end of the report presentation, we provided some of these insights as a means of showing what else we could do for the organization. The senior member of the organization immediately saw the benefits of what we were showing him and how it could be used to improve their operations. Unfortunately, with each slide and insight presented, his immediate response was to focus on the tool we used in gaining that insight.
I must admit though, the organization’s analysts we were initially helping were interested in the actual insights and the fact that we could glean them from the data they had provided us. But since the boss was only interested in the tool, his question to his analysts was if they could produce the same results if he got them the same tools we were using. No matter how much we tried to turn the conversation from tools used and back to what capabilities we could bring to bare in understanding their data, the boss continued to equate performance with the tools used. We never got the additional work; the organization never got the tools and they still are generating data that is going unused to improve their operations.
As decision scientists and analysts, we have varied educational backgrounds and generally years of experience which translate into professional capabilities and talents. As a customer seeking assistance in the area of decision support tools and analytics, it is best to focus on the capabilities required for your task. We all have access to the tools and those tools will change over time. Our specialty is picking the correct tool for the task at hand and properly using those tools. When developing your requirement statements, identify only the desired outcomes and let the consultant propose the tools to achieve those outcomes.