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You’ve Got Data. Now What?

In her 2016 book, Makers and Takers, business journalist Rana Foroohar points out that even as business schools continue to teach linear, finance- and math-oriented thinking to their students, what businesses desperately need is executives who not only understand balance sheets but who understand people.

A quantitative bias is natural in business. A business is expected to earn a profit. Numbers matter. But in the age of digital transformation, the abundance of quantitative data can be linked to a combination of factors: increasing digital access to behavioural data, the demand for operational efficiency, and the priorities of financial performance. All of these tend to incentivize a quantitative bias.

In a recent op-ed for the Financial Times, business guru Tom Peters lamented that “business schools typically emphasize stuff like marketing, finance and quantitative rules. The “people stuff” and “culture stuff” gets short shrift in virtually all cases.” The messy, unpredictable and unquantifiable nature of human behaviour can’t be captured on a spreadsheet.

But quantitative data alone is not enough; it doesn't help us to understand the "why" of what it shows.

Insight - the act of understanding - requires context. It's only through getting to the root of "why" something is happening in our data that we can confidently take action. This requires us to answer questions that only qualitative data can help us understand.

Data is the ‘what’. Insight is the ‘why’. The opportunity for innovation lies where these two meet.

Context can explain what numbers can’t

We need look no further than the current pandemic to see that all the quantitative data in the world is not enough to explain why people still choose to risk their lives by ignoring it. Despite ample warning the world was caught completely by surprise when Covid 19 hit in March of 2020.

More surprising is the fact that even with such high Covid morbidity rates, so many people still refuse to be vaccinated. While the scientific community was able to make innovative vaccines available in an unimaginably short amount of time, the question about why so many people avoid them in the face of such overwhelming data has yet to be answered.

To answer that, you need to speak with both doubters and believers. You need to be able to combine data and its context. At Normative, we do both. It’s not just about the data. It’s about a job to be done: removing risk from innovation, and using evidence to get your best ideas to market faster.

Quant/qual innovation

A survey can yield thousands of responses, but it can only deal with closed-ended questions. Qualitative research can yield important contextual insights, but it can’t do it at scale.

We take a hybrid approach at Normative that allows for rapid iteration so that you get speed, context and the confidence that your business decision-making will be based on solid insights.

Normative does more than test the market positioning and value propositions of your product or service innovation. We also utilize qualitative approaches that test assumptions about the product/service and its underlying customer base.

Combining qualitative with quantitative research helps ensure that you are getting the greatest value out of your product development process and the greatest impact in the market.  It helps de-risk innovation and by inviting executives to look past the balance sheet to understand the human context of their decisions. It is also core to our value proposition: Evidence-Driven innovation.

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Written By:

Patrick Glinski

Edward O'Neil