Old quotes relevant to a data-driven world


As my blog category Quotes shows, I’m very fond of quotes and expressions that relate to mentoring and startups. Quotes tend to be very compact ways to convey wisdom – the distillation of data and information. Often, but not always, the source of the quote also conveys credibility, as is the case with computing legends like Alan Kay and  management legends like Peter Drucker, whose quotes you will find in my posts.

Two quotes were included in the front page story in today’s New York Times, An ‘Iceberg’ of Unseen Crimes: Many Cyber Offenses Go Unreported and the story made me recall a couple of others. The gist of the Times article was that crime measurement tools and data collection has not kept up with “identity theft; sexual exploitation; ransomware attacks; fentanyl purchases over the dark web; human trafficking for sex or labor; revenge porn; credit card fraud; child exploitation; and gift or credit card schemes that gangs use to raise cash for their traditional operations or vendettas.”

Nola Joyce, former deputy commissioner of Philadelphia’ police department used one hoary expression and one old saying that I for one I have never heard, but recommend founders pay attention to:

“It’s the old iceberg metaphor. What we know about is above the surface. But in terms of value, and in terms of harm, a lot of that crime is below the surface.”

“There’s an old saying that came out of the Vietnam War,” she added, “that said, `If you can’t measure what matters, what you measure matters a great deal.”

With the rise of data science – “big data” – and machine learning there’s tremendous pressure on startups to make use of these tools in both their internal operations and with their customers. But it’s also a given that in a startup founders have to act with imperfect information, far less than they would have available in a mature, large corporation. In fact the ability to act decisively on less than complete information is a key success factor for founders. That’s why the Vietnam quote is so important. Be careful what you measure! You can translate “Look before you leap!” into “Look before you measure!” to ensure you are measuring the right things, not just measuring things right.

Another expression also pops up in the article relating to crime data and statistics:

As Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based research group that has studied the issue, put it: “The problem is, to use an overused expression, `You don’t know what you don’t know,’ and by that I mean we don’t know the extent of these incidents in our communities or from a national perspective.”

This is often expressed as “It’s not what you don’t know that will hurt you, it’s what you don’t know that you don’t know that will.” That’s why mentors can be so valuable, we’ve had to learn many of those things that founders may not know they don’t know.

Finally management guru Peter Drucker’s saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” springs to mind from reading this article on the problem police departments face trying to manage digital crime, which few if any departments are even beginning to measure.

So yes, as a founder you need to make data-driven decisions, you need to collect, manage and analyze customer data, you may even need to seize the opportunity to sell data to your customers. But mind these sayings as you do. Not everything is worth the effort to measure. But as the old saying goes about advertising, “We know that 50% of our ad budget is wasted. We just don’t know which half.”

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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