When it comes to Data, are you an Orange Picker or a Juice Maker?

Who wouldn’t want to be Data-driven in the era of Information Technologies? From big data to macro personal information. Those who have the data have the most valuable asset today. Data could be considered the new coal of this century, a raw material with the potential of metamorphosing into the equivalent value of diamonds and energy for tech companies, governments and basically any type of private or public organisation.

However, it is not data alone that differentiates one company, institution or individual from the rest, but their relationship with it, their philosophy and treatment. To what extent are your decisions driven by data alone, and how much can you think for yourself with the data you obtain? This is the fundamental difference between the so much repeated ‘Data-driven’ mantra and a more critical-thinking approach.

“To what extent are your decisions driven by data alone, and how much can you think for yourself with the data you obtain?”

Now, think of data as oranges 🍊

When it comes to our relationship with data, there are two different approaches we can take:

Are you an Orange Picker or a Juice Maker?
Are you an Orange Picker or a Juice Maker?

Data-driven: The Orange Picker

Being an orange-picker is hard, you need to have the right tools and agility. It takes time and energy but with a bit of training and discipline eventually, you become an expert collector. It is then when you just realise that you have been so focused on gathering oranges that you haven’t even tasted them, neither you are too sure about what to do with them. So you just continue picking oranges, maybe this way it will all make sense. And, I mean, having oranges is better than not having them, right? ‘Being orange-driven is good practice’.

When data drives your decisions, there is a constant need to collect more to identify patterns and build more accurate models. The focus and the effort are not on the data treatment, but on the quantity and variety of the data you collect.
This can lead to common evils like ‘cherry(orange)-picking’ practices to back up your assumptions or a narrow and shortsighted perspective of the problems we are facing, ignoring the whole forest and focusing on a few trees.

A very common example of this happens when quantitative data is being used as the main source of insights while ignoring qualitative data along the way. This is due to the nature of each type of data, how they are collected and processed. While quantitative data can be counted and expressed using numbers, qualitative data on the other hand is hard to measure. It requires observational skills and a high capacity to translate abstract concepts into more concrete characteristics and traits.

The truth is that data alone won’t give us the whole picture, neither a basket of oranges will give us juice, orange pies or a fruit salad. We need to learn how to peel them, prepare them and cook them.

Data is not here to please you, to support your assumptions or to be collected and stored somewhere. Data, to be valuable, needs to be organised, analysed and used in combination with a different set of tools.

Data-informed: The Juice Maker

Being a juice maker -as obvious as it sounds- means putting the focus on getting the juice out of the orange. A data-informed approach requires intuition, critical thinking and data to come up with possible solutions ready to be tested. Data is understood as a check of your assumptions, rather than as a way to support them.

With a data-informed approach, data is just one part of your decision-making process and collecting it becomes just the entry point of a more complex set of steps. The interest is not on ‘how much’ for ‘how long’ but rather on the data sources and the intentionality behind. Why are we collecting data, what concrete outcomes do we need and how do we make sure we extract the right conclusions.

Data-Driven vs Data-Informed
Data-Driven vs Data-Informed

This approach can facilitate a more creative or “without-the-box” decision-making process, potentially leading to better results. When data is just one input, you can use your experience and creativity to come up with solutions that might not be so obvious using data alone.

However, nothing is perfect. A data-informed approach, if not developed properly, can lead to some common problems too. When data is just one input, opinions grow in importance and can cloud the outcomes. At the same time, the variety of inputs increases naturally the complexity of the decision-making process which can develop in a total paralysis to make a call.

Summing Up

Despite my personal preference towards a more data-informed approach, -which is evident in this article - I believe that the best approach we can take is a blend of these two, depending on the circumstances. It is a matter of finding the right balance, where qualitative and quantitative data complement each other and there is room to apply critical thinking while putting in check possible human mistakes.

Being an orange picker is best when you’re working on projects that require conversion rate optimization, A/B testing, pricing, or other data-based metrics. On the other hand, being a juice maker is best when you’re working on projects that require multiple inputs. For example, a new feature that requires feedback from your users, your own personal experience, other stakeholders input or competitive analysis.

I hope you enjoy this article and don’t forget to get some vitamin C from time to time!

Thank you for reading!

This article was written with Writty ✏️

When it comes to Data, are you an Orange Picker or a Juice Maker? was originally published in Prototypr on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.