Escaping the Data Trap: How Opinions Unlock True Innovation

Source: DALL-E

“We need to be data driven”, says everyone. And yes. I agree 90% of the time, but it shouldn’t be taken as a blanket statement. Like everything else in life, recognizing where it does and doesn’t apply is important.

In a world obsessed with data, it’s the bold, opinionated decisions that break through to revolutionary innovation.

The Economist wrote about the rumoured, critical blunders of McKinsey in the 1980s during the early days of the smartphone era. AT&T asked McKinsey to project the size of the smartphone market.

McKinsey, presumably after rigorous projections, expert calls, and data crunching, shared that the estimated total market would be about 900,000 smartphones. They based it on data, specifically data in that time. It was bulky, large, and only a necessary evil for mobile people. Data lags.

AT&T pulled out initially, in part, due to those recommendations, before diving back in the market to compete. Some weren’t as lucky. Every strategy consultant in South Korea will know about the rumours of McKinsey sharing a similar advice to one of the largest conglomerates that used go go head-to-head with Samsung: LG. They pulled out of the market, and lost even taking a shot at becoming a global leader in this estimated 500 billion dollar market.

Today, the World Economic Forum shared in a recent analysis that there are more smartphones than people on earth, with roughly 8.6 BILLION subscribed phones.

The designer and builder of the iPhone and Nest Tony Faddell, shares in his book Build that decisions are driven by some proportion of opinions and data. And for the very first version of a product that are revolutionary, as opposed to evolutionary, are by definition opinion driven. And they’re useful for different types of innovation:

  • Revolutionary: Complete re-thinking of a certain feature or process, often 10x better than the existing options
  • Evolutionary

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