The difference between what and why

Today’s meeting threw up an interesting observation that made me think about problem areas, how they’re identified and how they may be deconstructed. In simpler terms, the difference between the “what” and the “why”.

Take two regions in a country, one far more fertile and having a better overall economy than the other. Yet both areas face the same lack or unmet need. Take a product which fills this need. Yet it’s sales in the far more economically challenged area are more than double that of the first region. Why?

The numbers provide the managers a means to identify a problem. But they are not able to provide any explanation for the discrepancy.  It was the numbers themselves that originally identified the first region as one which would be a good location to launch a product – average income was X, unmet need was felt by almost 90% of the population etc etc.

This is where putting people first, followed by supporting metrics (data) makes sense. Or rather in the case of those who attended today’s meeting, where their data now needed answers that only the people generating those numbers could answer themselves.

Data, charts, graphs, metrics and numbers all have a role to play but when they are about human beings (and not just the number of cars per minute produced in an automated factory line) I believe that role is a supporting one, not the Oscar winning star of the show.

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