As an analyst, however, one of the parts of the show that jolts me in a far less intoxicating manner is when the firm has to decide if they are going to take on a new client. When a scandal is brewing, they have to decide quickly, and their decisions are habitually made as a group (cool!), but based only on gut (what?).
From my experience, strategic business decisions do tend to incorporate at least some input from the main decision maker’s gut. The excitement of breaking new ground and the optimism that comes with taking on risk continue to be championed even in the face of big data. At what point will Big Data become as sexy as the Big Kahuna for informing big decisions? And will Big Data be the final straw that evens the playing field in business for men and women?
A March 2013 study of more than 600 corporate board directors published in the International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics finds “female directors are more likely to consider the rights of others and to take a cooperative approach to decision making in order to arrive at a fair and moral decision that benefits all parties,” as reported by HBR.
The article’s authors also reference how “the female brain’s integrative advantage can lead women toward maximizing solutions that aim for greater, more holistic outcomes,” and counsel that women prefer to explore the broader context before coming to a decision.
I would expect that if Olivia Pope’s female-led office practices group decision-making, it would be in character for them to conduct evidence-based decision-making too.
Is it because they are affiliated with a Republican president that they don’t have the equivalent of the Obama campaign’s predictive analytics masterminds on staff? Or is the emphasis on gut decision-making based on an assumption that data is still not fast enough or good enough to arrive in time for important, strategic decisions like who to take on as a client? Or is it simply that Big Data is not dramatic enough for TV?
No matter what the reason, I disagree. In the world of Big Data, getting the right data to the right people at the right time still remains one of the biggest challenges in analytics. That can surely be depicted in dramatic, suspenseful fashion.
In our world, outside Washington, D.C., tactical decisions like personalizing an ad for customers who have been to your Web site, or determining which ad network to shift dollars to for the lowest cost per lead, are increasingly automated through Big Data.
But strategic decisions that could throw an entire team in flux, like which clients to take on, still require leaders (whether male or female), to rely on their guts. Relying on our guts leaves room to introduce biases, including potentially discriminatory gender-based ones, into the decision-making process. One episode of "Scandal," for example, explored a plot where Olivia’s gut was wrong and gender biases put a family in danger.
As I start to watch Season Two of "Scandal," I’m hoping they will introduce a new character: a rogue analyst hired away from a fictionalized NSA to quickly parse the data needed to inform Olivia Pope’s team members on which clients to take on. And if they do, don’t tell me!