Crunching Numbers

When in doubt, let the data tell you what to do.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the May 2007 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

We've got all this data. Now let's do something with it. In Competing on Analytics(Harvard Business School Press, $29.95), entrepreneurship professor Thomas H. Davenport and researcher Jeanne G. Harris show how high-performing companies use quantitative analyses of data to drive decisions. Wal-Mart's work with logistics and Capital One's work with credit card marketing are among the examples they cite. They then call for more businesses to apply similar analytical rigor to more areas, including HR, finance and operations.

Competing on analytics starts with cleaning out and organizing your data. Next, choose a place to start. Then get your staff behind the concept, hire the right people and roll it out in stages. The authors concede that analytical advantage is likely only temporary, and when you're pressed for time or have inadequate data, it may be best to go with your gut. But it's hard to argue with their basic premise: Decisions based on empirical facts and calculated probabilities will, over the long haul, lead to better performance.

Forward Thinking
Entrepreneurs are always supposed to know the way forward. The reality, of course, is that everyone reaches impasses. In Getting Unstuck(Harvard Business School Press, $24.95), psychologist Timothy Butler describes how to deal with business or personal challenges we can't solve or even face. Equal parts instruction and inspiration, Butler's book engagingly leads readers through self-assessment tests and meditations designed to dissolve blocks and draw out new insights. While it doesn't promise to help you make more money or gain market share, it does give entrepreneurs a new approach to moving forward when they're struggling with stalled projects or doubts about what to do next.

Mark Henricks is Entrepreneur's "Staff Smarts" columnist.

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