I don’t know that there is a person who hasn’t watched with wonder a juggler. Whether it be balls, blades or bats, it is a mental and physical feat that not everyone can accomplish. His attention is singularly on the movement of the balls and their alignment with a relatively fixed trajectory. If a ball gets slightly outside of the desired trajectory, the juggler will make an adjustment to get the next one back in line. And if he gets a bit behind, he will steal bit of “time” from the next ball, which may cause it to be less than perfectly placed or caught, which will then cause … you get what usually happens next.
At work, the ability to juggle too many tasks and keep them all moving is quite impressive as well, right? New findings actually tell us the answer is a resounding no, except in very specific situations. And this same research also tells us the negative ramifications of getting caught juggling can be significant.
It was while reading Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir that I encountered research regarding juggling and its impact on cognitive bandwidth. The book is a must read for anyone looking to better understand barriers, biases and motivations. At the risk of over-simplifying the findings and their implications, juggling causes a hyper focus on getting done the tasks at hand (or catching up the tasks that were due yesterday.) This focus leaves little to no bandwidth for other thought processing, likely resulting in errors in judgment and decision-making as well as reductions in productivity.
Finally, there was an answer! Many have long been confounded by organizations that implement strategies and tactics that seemed to others ill-advised. Although they had the information to tell them otherwise, they continued to spend unwisely, layer poorly formed tactic on poorly formed tactic and do/spend far more than necessary (or sometimes not enough). Some often seemed to be desperately chasing revenue, plugging holes and shoring up old strategies. Yesterday’s tactics chasing yesterday’s revenue. And the same actions (already proven to not be effective) often intensified as the revenue got harder and more expensive to come by. Wasn’t it obvious to them that they were stuck on the same trajectory, that they weren’t changing their tomorrow? Why would they keep wasting time, resources and efforts?
The instinct to only see data that rationalizes previous decisions likely explains a portion of this behavior. Not having the right people who know how to look at and interpret data (or are not properly motivated to do so) also influences these misreads. But these explanations don’t account for all. Now there is a more complete answer. Many are likely caught juggling. They actually cannot see that their actions are causing their environment, that the data is right in front of them, that they aren’t charting a path out of the vicious short term cycle in which they are trapped and that they are continuously robbing Peter to pay Paul.
What do the issues caused by juggling have to do with data-driven, customer-centric marketing? Everything. Fully leveraging data is much more than a few new reports or a few new analysts. Working with data means having the time and ability to understand it, put it in context, and know what else to ask and when/how to apply learnings. Bandwidth must be available to allow for the complex decision-making required to continuously turn data into learning, separate leading indicators from noise and shift actions and resources as necessary. Instead of having the organization’s resources juggling roughly the same tactics on the same trajectory for diminishing returns, attention must be shifted to ensure data and technology (and all their strengths and weaknesses) are properly being interpreted and applied to continuously improve insights, optimize initiatives and deliver amazing customer experiences.
While a juggler is certainly fun to watch, it isn’t fun to watch or do when it is happening in your business. Given the significant disruption and rapidly shifting demands of today’s marketplace, it’s more than just not fun. Getting caught juggling can have serious consequences.
- Transformation Not Privatization
- Dust Myself Off and Start All Over Again
- Much Like In Oz, There Aren’t Any Secret Answers To This Problem
- I’m Sorry, I Don’t Know.
- If Big Data is the Goal, How Will You Know When You Are There?
- It Isn’t Her Path To Purchase
- What’s The Secret To Data-Driven, Customer-Centric Marketing?
- Are You Caught Juggling?
- Start At The Very Beginning
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