I was reading the new Harvard Business Review today at lunch, specifically the piece by Guido Jouret of Cisco on the company’s recent external innovation tournament (interestingly, that’s the name of a new book I’m reading right now). There’s lots of good stuff in the HBR article about sourcing innovations externally, but one sentence in particular stopped me in my tracks–in a good way. Jouret wrote:
On balance, voting was less useful than comments in helping us choose the 40 semifinalists…. Some commenters showed deep subject-matter expertise and insight.
This throwaway line reminded me of a prior post, where I recounted a story a friend had told me about an HR VP making a decision based on survey comments. Here’s the story:
Last year we had a pilot of a new performance management system for our employees. The trial group was 4000 people. We had spent a lot of time on the pilot and gathered a lot of data. At the end of the trial, the VP of Human Resources printed out all the comments that had been received on the survey forms. He took them home one night and read every single one. Then he came in the next day and said, “We can’t roll this system out.” And that was it. The trial was very expensive. We’d gathered lots of data, lots of numbers, but the final determinant was what he read in those comments.
Freeform data such as comments, anecdotes, rants, etc., aren’t easy to manage. But they contain tons of insight. Sometimes all you need to do is read them.