I see a lot of teams and organizations get paralyzed by overwhelming data. While they have data, they lack insight. So, they get stuck. Instead of moving fast, they don't move at all. They think that if they wait for more data, they'll get the answer. Instead, they just get further paralyzed, which kills any possibility of innovation.

The next time you or your team is stuck, consider doing the following:

1. Find Surprises in What You Already Know

Give your team an assignment to come together in work sessions and answer the following questions to help push thinking:

  • In what ways have you been looking at and responding to detailed data when you'd be better served by stepping back and seeking overall patterns and themes of the bigger picture?
  • What data do you possess about your industry, customers, markets, competitors and stakeholders?  What's the "so what?" of all this data?
  • What are the big top-line conclusions you can make that give you a sense of the overall opportunity or direction?

Provide your team with these questions before a work session and tell them they need to be prepared to discuss their answers verbally as part of a larger conversation.

2. Amplify Strengths to Create New Opportunities

Next, ask your team to come prepared to the next meeting with stories from across the organization that highlights your strengths. For instance: What are examples from when we delighted a customer, exceeded financial targets, introduced a breakthrough innovation, or did something remarkable?

When you get back together, share the stories and then find themes from these examples by extracting the things that led to these successes and are at the heart of what you do best. Use common language when describing your strengths so that anyone, even your grandmother, can understand what you're talking about.

After you share your stories and identify themes, ask: How can we combine or build upon our strengths to tap into new opportunities?

3. Use Purpose to Prioritize

Even when you have a list of opportunities, it can be hard to prioritize them.

Instead, look at customers' causes. Think about what your customers are focused on-- such as contributing to a higher purpose like sustainability, health equity, or whatever they care for deeply and are doing something about themselves. Ask your team: How can we tie into this greater sense of purpose for our own organization?

Beyond causes, uncover underlying motivations. Consider where you really want to make a big difference in the world--for customers, for your industry, or for your organization. Ask your team about the problems they want to fix, gaps they want to fill, or contributions they want to make. Discuss what would have to happen for your team to be able to deliver something of great magnitude: What would it look like? Who would it impact? What value would it deliver and to whom? How would it provide benefit back to the organization?

Getting out of data overwhelm means helping people let go of the details. As you move forward with these activities, tell your team to prepare, but to only bring themselves and their existing knowledge to the discussion, not their PowerPoint and Excel files. The goal is to help your team jump to the top line so you can leapfrog to the next big thing.