Analytics – A Sun Tzu Perspective

Many of Sun Tzu’s writings have been adapted in a number of industries such as investing, real estate, and sales. However, the application of Sun Tzu to analytics is especially interesting and insightful because it plays such as significant role in successful analytics projects.

Sun Tzu said,

“There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general:

(1) Recklessness, which leads to destruction;

(2) cowardice, which leads to capture;

(3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults;

(4) a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame;

(5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble. “

How could one relate anything from analytics to these precepts? Very easily, if you are a student of strategy, and of Sun Tzu.

If an data analyst hurries their work or provides information in manner that is not complete, it leads to the the destruction of the work and possibly the destruction of companies or departments. An analysis that hastily attempts to identify a market segment, marketing campaign or competitive price comparison, can lead to disastrous results. This is not to say that speed isn’t critical, on the contrary as we will see in another article, speed is important, but reckless speed, kills.

Second, an analyst, must have the courage to state what must be said. They cannot hide the information or fear retribution from commanders and leaders. It is their responsibility to give their leadership critical, accurate and timely information whether its good or bad.

Third, analysts must leave the ego at the door. They cannot be tempted to lash out that their solution is the only reasonable one. While confidence and conviction are important, analysts must listen to all inputs in order to ensure that their solutions are not reckless. If there is a rush to judgement or just a defense of ones own position, the battle will be lost.

Fourth, if one is afraid to stand behind their decisions, the risk increases of hesitation and an analysis that is at best incomplete. Analysts must be willing to stand by their work, and be willing to be humble about their results, and not worry about preserving an undeserved honor. Honor and praise will come from decisiveness and completeness. However, a good analyst will shun overt and excessive praise because the work is never done.

Finally, our team is very important and data scientists are very difficult to come by; however, if leaders of analytic teams are worried about the sensitivities of their team or try and make things too comfortable, the analytics team  will never be sharp for difficult projects. Training and goals are necessary for the analytics team to excel in what they do, comfort and complacency are the real enemy.

Sun Tzu’s effect on business spans many disciplines. Analytics teams are no exception. We can learn much from Sun Tzu and in our next articles, we will explore more of how to apply Sun Tzu to your data Science team.

Alexander Pelaez, Ph.D., is a President of Five Element Analytics, an analytics consulting firm. He has served as a senior executive to a number of firms in healthcare, retail and media. He is also a professor of Information Systems and Business Analytics at Hofstra University.