Does a good business sound good? Does a successful organisation give off a pleasant smell of success? Does an excellent company feel excellent? I ask these questions because of the work that we have been doing with data. Nearly all of the ways that we report on how successful an organisation is performing are visual. Spreadsheets, presentations, infographics and increasingly video are the accepted tools of the trade. Yet why is this so? Humans have many more senses than the visual. We hear, we smell, we taste and we feel. There are many others.
Humans are feeling creatures that think so why is it that we us a very restricted set of our abilities when it comes to passing information. Would we be able to glean more from the data at our disposal if we were to experience it through music perhaps?
The answer it would seem is out there. Last week the BBC’s flagship Sunday evening show Countryfile was visiting Charlecote Park, a magnificent 16th century country house, surrounded by its own deer park, on the banks of the River Avon in Warwickshire.
Within its grounds it has the last commercially operating water mill in the country. Wheat is brought in from local farms, filled with dust and grit and chaff. Once this is separated the seeds are poured into the hopper which feeds the grain into the eye of the mill-stones which grind the flour, cutting it finer and finer. The flow of the grain is controlled by the damsel which is sometimes known as a dandelion or chatterer.
Anyway, Matt Baker introduced us to Carl who is the new miller. He got his dream job after the previous incumbent retired. It takes years of experience to become a good miller. In the interview, Carl is asked what the key thing is that you need to do to become an expert.
‘You need to tune yourself in with the building – is the best way to describe it. It is the sound, the smell and the vibration. You know when it is running nicely.’
The answer is yes then. You can tell a lot about the way that an organisation is running by being in amongst the ebb and flow of its activities. In truth this has been the way of keeping in touch with what is going on long before data mining tools became available. Mechanics would listen to their engines and shepherds would stand among their sheep and sense whether they were calm for example. Production environments are working when the operators are going about their work without rushing.
The miller would know how well the corn was ground by feeling it between the thumb and forefinger. He was using the rule of thumb. His experience would show in his hands. He would be on his mettle.
We need to make more of all of the senses we have when interrogating the data at our disposal. Visual clues may be easier to produce yet they leave whole swathes of our senses untapped. We need to sniff out the good stories.
Anyway, it’s all grist to the mill.