Mu Sigma held its seventh annual Decision Sciences Summit at the JW Marriott Essex House, across New York’s magnificent Central Park. Spread over two gorgeous Indian summer days, the event attracted more than 250 clients from across 10 industries. The theme of this year’s Summit was the importance of exploring the interconnected problem universe. Amidst numerous presentations, discussions and debates, some key learnings stood out:
The importance of learning in a rapidly changing business environment
Decision Sciences is an inter-disciplinary endeavor requiring harmony between Science and Art
Problems do not exist in isolation, but live in a web of interconnected business questions
Pursuing simplicity in this complex world requires an ability to ask better questions, and a review of how we think about metrics and KPIs
Learning over knowing and the interconnected problem space
Dhiraj Rajaram, Founder and CEO of Mu Sigma, kicked off the two-day event, describing the Summit as an interplay between Mu Sigma’s belief system and real life examples from client organizations. The President and CEO of a large multinational insurance corporation brought this to life as he spoke about his experience of setting up a group under a Chief Science Officer that is focused on driving learnings and interdisciplinary perspectives from across various business functions. He pointed out that for innovation to happen, one needs to accept some amount of inefficiency and adopt a “fail fast” mentality; characteristics that typically face resistance from successful organizations. He added that, while Big Data can help in many areas, it is also important for organizations to be creative in farming and building new datasets that could lead to exponential impact when teamed with available internal data. He emphasized the importance of emotional intelligence, a curious mindset, and an attitude of lifetime learning as key assets to drive into the culture of a successful organization.
In a fireside chat with the VP of Strategic Planning at a large US airline company, Dhiraj talked about how we can learn from nature when dealing with complexity. As the world is moving from the physical to a virtual manifestation, Dhiraj explained how we can look at problems through the lens of a decision supply chain that is similar to a physical supply chain in the manufacturing world. The airline executive made Dhiraj’s concepts real for the audience when he spoke about how, as the airline’s business complexity increased due to multiple external factors, they realized the need to look at interconnections between problems. He talked about his experience of mapping
problems visually and the insight it provided in identifying the right areas and metrics. Organizations often make the mistake of monitoring one metric and being comfortable in meeting the threshold for the metric. However, if interconnections are not explored, there might be undesirable business outcomes despite that particular metric performing well.
The Chief Analytics Officer of a large entertainment company talked about their journey of redefining and structuring performance management within the organization. By clearly outlining objectives and engaging all stakeholders, analytics organizations can drive the right change in behavior through a set of interconnected metrics. His perspective was that metrics can sometimes be misleading, but if used well, can often drive innovation. It is important to deconstruct what is driving the metrics and establish who has accountability for what.
Behavioral Science and Technology at play
Executives from a leading online market place company and a large biotechnology company joined Mu Sigma’s Rajat Mishra in an interactive session on what it takes to ask great questions. The speakers pointed out that as children we ask plenty of questions but seem to lose the questioning muscle as we grow older. Possible reasons for this change include the burden of being an expert, fear of being wrong, organizational culture, etc. The session then focused on different types of questions; some of which do not get used enough. The speakers used the mnemonic CAFÉ to highlight four types of questions that can drive a conversation; those that are used for Clarifying intent, exploring Adjacent possibilities, Funneling and Elevating discussions. Finally, the speakers explored a number of biases that could hinder us from asking better questions. Examples shared by the speakers and the audience highlighted confirmation bias, mob bias, optimism bias, selective perception, and anchoring as common fallacies to watch out for.
Later, Zubin Dowlaty, Head of Innovation and Development at Mu Sigma and an executive from a Fortune 50 software company discussed the emergence of intelligent systems. They showcased how these systems can fundamentally change analytics and the way decisions are made, by applying intelligence through information processing on simple operational systems; thereby making decisions automated, enhanced and more reliable. A key point that the panelists emphasized was that Augmented Intelligence – one where man and machine come together – is far more powerful than a model of just man or machine.
The Summit kept its pace alive with multiple short talks delivered by Mu Sigma clients, conducted in the popular style of a Ted Talk. The Vice President of analytics from a giant pharmaceutical manufacturer emphasized the need for embedding more art into the science of decision making as a means for not just better consumption of data but also in translating data into meaningful insights.
He illustrated this point by showing how the conversion of an intimidating CAT scan machine into a more colorful and friendly version in a pediatric hospital significantly reduced the need for sedatives in the patients. A key point he drove home was that appealing to the emotive right brain is as important as the cognitive left.
The Vice President of online business for a large home improvement retailer presented his thoughts on the end of single channel analytics in retail. He stated that it is imperative for organizations to track and capture information across touch points and look at customer behavior in a holistic manner, rather than in silos.
The Vice President of Planning and Pricing of a Fortune 100 Food and Beverage manufacturer shared his experience in building a man-machine ecosystem to support their trade promotion program in a complex pricing world that features hundreds of promotion schemes and product combinations. Key takeaways from his presentation included how big data is very often big dirty data, and why analytics functions need to focus on experimentation.
Learning by doing
Our main tent sessions were augmented by learning booths, which brought to life many of the concepts that were discussed. The Internet of Things Booth included everything from the use of video cameras and sensors as human heart rate detectors, to programmable drones that could move to avoid being shot down. The booth captured the imagination of the audience. Other booths included a Questions CAFÉ, building analytics at scale, using concepts such as systems dynamics and design thinking, and a demonstration of Mu Sigma’s new muUniverse product that can help clients navigate their interconnected problem universe.
With plenty of interactive discussions, the fun-filled, two-day event did justice to the theme – “Exploring the Interconnected Universe”. The summit enabled inter-connections across clients and industries and allowed new questions to emerge. After all, we all want to harness that inner child in us to ask more and better questions.