It’s the time of the metrics. We can measure virtually anything. As in business so in football.
So let’s have a look at the people running behind the crazy piece of round leather. Take the all-present metrics: distance covered by players on the football field. Everyone is talking about it: the commentators, the fans, the grandmas not excluded. Is that blonde devil already at 12 km? You mean Kroos, Grandma? No, the other one. The one without a German hairdresser. Ah, Modrić. Oh, poor little boy. 750 meters behind with only 4 minutes stoppage time. What, Grandma? What are you talking about?
Let’s assume you are a coach and your game-plan is simple: defending on your own half and executing snakelike counter-attacks after stealing a ball. Would you instruct players to run over 10.000 meters and then really expect anything to come out of it?
Because the metrics (= distance covered) is not in tune with your game-plan at all, because you know that organized defending is more important than running all over the place, because the quality of running is more important than quantity itself.
Look at the top. Real Madrid in this year’s eliminating stage of Champions League. Here are two little charts:
a) the distance covered by Real and opponent (=the metrics, left)
b) the goals scored by Real and opponent (= the objective, right)
And a key takeaway?
That Real Madrid always lagged behind the opponents on distance covered. But eventually Real scored goals. More than opponents. Sorry, Grandma.
With this in mind, what can we now say about the distance covered metrics? Although Grandma likes it, it doesn’t add any particular value for business = executing game-plan, right? Plain data pretending to be an insight. No matter how accurately you measure it.
Actually, the more accurately you measure the wrong metrics – the great pretender – the more you lose time and the farther you are from your main objective.
FROM DATA TO ACTIONABLE INSIGHTS
But let’s not completely abandon the distance covered by the players! How about adding additional variables like speed or time or passes or ball possession into the equation. Now we uncover some new patterns: eg. that our movements are becoming more and more irregular during the later stages of the game, or that our transition into the attack is slower due to the particular player not doing the sprints with the same speed as before. By that, we are definitely confusing Grandma but we could also find out a few things that are not visible by a plain eye. Yes, we can begin talking INSIGHTS here.
If the INSIGHTS prove we can act upon them and thus improve our game = come closer to score goals, defend more solidly, in other words, drive our business value than we can talk about insights that drive action = ACTIONABLE INSIGHTS.
THE ILLUMINATION = THE CRUYFF MOMENT
I know the Grandma’s yawning out loud but here enters legendary Cruyff. (Sorry all Real fans out there. This is not a fandom stuff!) And legendary nr. 14 definitely brings something new into the game. Something that is a moment where a human still exceeds the machines. Listen to the great man:
It isn’t the man on the ball who decides where the ball goes, but the players without the ball.
Wow. Is that Cruyff talking or is it really Cruyff talking? How about that?
But this is no data! Who has measured it, after all? You’re right. It isn’t data. What is it then? Information? Insight? Actionable insight?
How about illumination, or a pure Cruyff moment that can really change business, pardon, football game? (you know, Cruyff is a spiritual father of Barcelona’s Tiki-Taka – one of the greatest disruptions of the football game ever).
DATA -> INSIGHTS -> ILLUMINATION -> AHA! INSIGHTS
Imagine now that we can find a way to support Cruyff’s disruptive thinking with metrics a little bit (which we definitely can, it’s the metrics time, remember!) Let’s analyze the movement patterns of the two players closest to the one possessing the ball. Building on top of the Cruyff’s illumination we can actually come to the Aha! Insight – something that changes the way we unfold the game-plan. We can actually measure -> to learn -> to prepare tactics -> to instruct players -> to execute on field. To finally beat the competition. Or just to play a damn good game – isn’t that enough!
By complementing such Cruyff moments the big data, the metrics finally achieves it’s higher purpose! Otherwise, big data is often just staying at the level of a big attention distractor. Good for Grandma but useless for game-plan.