10 things I learned from Star Wars: Data Analytics & Insight Newsletter July 2016




With our Professional Development month starting on the 1st August I thought this was a great opportunity to reflect on my own learning. I realised that most of the things that have stuck with me are the things I learned between the ages of 5 & 8.

These include reading, writing, basic arithmetic, not to poke cutlery into electrical appliances… and like many people of my era, every single word from the Star Wars films. Reading, writing & basic arithmetic I use every day and I now rarely poke cutlery into electrical appliances, (although if anybody has any tips on how to get a crumpet out of the toaster without risking a nasty shock please let me know). However, what about the Star Wars knowledge, is this wasted learning?

Having reflected on many of the quotes that have stuck with me I was surprised how many relate to lessons I have learned as an Analyst. I am clearly not alone in this as I noticed at the recent Customer Planning & Strategy Conference in Stratford upon Avon, on the 400 year anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, more people quoted Yoda than Shakespeare.

“You underestimate the power of the dark side” Darth Vadar – Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

As part of our online Customer Contact Analysis course we looked at the unintended consequences of measure targets and KPIs.

When we set targets people will do what is needed to achieve those targets, this can trigger behaviours that are counterproductive. For example

  • AHT–“Sorry, I can’t help you” – AHT achieved.
  • SLA – “That enquiry has missed it’s SLA, ignore it”
  • Sales – “This customer is confused – I am getting a bonus”

This is something I have also seen recently in football, since the introduction of passing and possession stats in the game it feels like a lot of players are making the safe backward pass to make their stats look good. Then last season Leicester came along ignored the stats and focussed on the goal. Their passing and possession stats were some of the worst in the Premiership but they won. And unfortunately anybody who saw Iceland v England will have seen this isn’t a coincidence.

We will next be running theonline Customer Contact & Analysis Course in association with the University of Ulster on the 8th of August.Click here to find out more.

“Stay on Target” Gold 5 – Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

When we produce insight and drive actions, that isn’t where our responsibility ends. We need to continue to produce insight to track the improvements and ensure they land and stick. However, just like Gold 5, who was shot down shortly after saying this, it is important to be aware of the wider picture and not get tunnel vision. If we focus on the target at the expense of everything else we are not going to be able to adapt to the unexpected and we can even drift over to the dark side.

“So what I told you was true… from a certain point of view.” Obi-Wan Kenobi – Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

With the right caveats we can use data to say just about anything. To produce reliable insight we need to ensure that the point of view is clearly defined and all caveats communicated and agreed in advance.

We discussed this in more detail last year in the article Do you have integrity?

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.” Darth Vadar – Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

Faith is a powerful force and can be used to push forward change. However, it equally can be a barrier to change. In the Telling Stories With Numbers video which I shared in last month's newsletter, I talked about how we need to use emotional engagement techniques as well as logic if we wish to change people’s beliefs.

In his article pride and ignorance James Lawther talks about how nearly a million lives were lost to scurvy because the solution simply didn’t conform to the physician’s beliefs.

“Never tell me the odds.”Han Solo – Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

Probability and margins of error are vital tools for analysts. We need to understand these to ensure the insight we produce is robust and reliable. However, when we talk about margins of error with people who are not statistically minded they can interpret due diligence as self-doubt. Rather than saying for example “This improvement will save £110k with a margin of error of +/- £10k”, try saying “This improvement will save at least £100k”

This was discussed in more detail during our Analytics Techniques Best Practice Week.

“You don’t have to do this to impress me” Princess Leia – Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

When we present data it is easy to forget what we are trying to do. We feel that in a presentation we need to justify the time we have taken. We cram in lots of graphs and tables that have nothing to do with the story we are trying to tell. Rather than enhancing the story these serve as an unwelcome distraction and mean that your stakeholders need to become analysts themselves just to pick out your key messages.

One great quote I heard at last year’s National Data Analytics and Insight Conference was “The role of an analyst is to be clever, not look clever”. We need to keep our presentations short and simple and remove any content that does not relate to our core message.

"Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view." Obi-Wan Kenobi –Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

Our biases are sub-conscious motivations, hardwired into our brains that influence how we make decisions. Biases are essential in helping us make fast decisions with little effort, however, if unchecked they can also create blind spots, preventing us fully considering options when making decisions.

We discussed bias in more detail last year in the article Geeks and Pyramids

“Let the Wookie win” – Han Solo – Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

It is not just Wookies, everybody likes to be successful and will focus their efforts on projects that will give them personal success. If we want to maximise their engagement we need to ensure that a win for the project is a win for them. If people feel that they have helped shape a project they will have a vested interest in a successful outcome. Allowing your stakeholders to contribute their ideas and recognising their contributions, (even if you have already thought of it), will help ensure their continued support.

When we present ideas it is tempting to go straight in with the solution. However, this means that the only way that people can contribute is to challenge your solution. By making the core message of your presentation a definition of a problem or opportunity it focusses the attention of your audience on finding the solution rather than challenging your assertions.

Dave Hignett gave a great example of this type of presentation in the RSA innovation awards case study.

“It’s not my fault.”– Lando Calrissian – Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

When we identify a problem the common reaction is “Whose fault is it. We need to make sure they don’t do it again”. This blame culture can lead to people passing the buck and covering up important issues. It is far better to have a culture that asks “How did this happen, how can we ensure this can’t happen again”.

The article below shows how in the US in 2014 there were 400,000 avoidable deathsdue to medical error, in the same period the number of deaths from passenger flights in US airspace was 0. It looks at the difference in the cultures in these two industries and highlights how a blame culture actually increases risk.


"Always pass on what you have learned." Yoda – Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi

This article would not be complete without a quote from the Jedi Master himself, and as we are about to embark on our Professional Development month none seemed more fitting than this.

By taking the time to share what we have learned not only do we benefit others but we also get benefits ourselves.

  • It is a way of reflecting on the things that we do.
  • It can highlight opportunities where we can improve.
  • It allows others to do the things that we do freeing us up for new opportunities.
  • If we share ideas with others, they will share their ideas with us.
  • By relating our ideas and techniques to other people’s challenges it can highlight new opportunities to explore.
  • People will add their own ideas building on what you have done and making it even better.

So put time aside to share best practice with others both inside and outside your organisation. I guarantee that you will get more out of the experience than you put in.

To support you we will be running a Free Professional Development Best Practice Month throughout August. It offers an unrivalled opportunity to access an exceptional range of resources that are specialist, actionable and based on real, practical experience. Register Here.

I appreciate that not everybody spent their formative years watching Star Wars on a continual loop, and this article will have more relevance to some of you than others. However, I am sure that Star Wars isn’t unique and it would be great to hear what you have learned from your favourite films or TV programmes. I have found that by taking a few minutes to tie ideas and things I have learned is a great way to reflect on the things I know but also remember ideas I had forgotten.

It would be great to hear some of your examples – please share them with me atIan.robertson@theforum.social.

Best Regards,


Ian Robertson
Customer Contact Specialist
The Forum

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