Posts Tagged ‘data’

The Gambler

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

I’m wondering whether the key to “strategery” isn’t found in the wisdom of Kenny Rogers: “You’ve gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”

The song is about a card player, who’s observing a series of numbers, but also a group of people. It’s said successful poker players read their opponents, not the cards.

This strikes me as a useful metaphor for strategy in philanthropy, particularly at a time when “metrics mania” has taken hold. To me, it becomes “mania” when metrics are driven by superstition: DATA take on a totemic power and aren’t understood either in themselves or in relation to their context.

It’s not enough to gather data, you have to know how to use them. Which means being clear about why you’re gathering them. Which means being clear about what you’re hoping to accomplish through the use of data.

Strategy in this respect is about the judgment of when to use different kinds of data, and how to balance them against each other. Context is everything. Decision-making is strategic when it’s data-driven, but even that phrase is a bit deceptive. It’s not the data doing the driving; they’re the fuel – you have to be the driver. But all too often we act as if we’re in one of those Google self-driving cars and try to have the data “speak for themselves.” Ain’t no such thing, my friends.

So think about Kenny Rogers the next time you’re wondering how to be more strategic in your giving. Read the numbers on the cards and do your calculations, but only as you read the players and the table.