Big Data secrets from Airbnb, Starbucks and Sonic

The 5 small steps that can lead to big competitive advantages.

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Credit: Shutterstock/Stephen Sauer

As the adoption of Big Data tools accelerates, many of the success stories we hear are the big wins, the victories that Hollywood movies are made of. Think of Billy Beane and his use of data analytics with the low-budget Oakland A’s.

For most businesses, though, swinging for the fences all the time may lead to a pile of strikeouts. Instead, many businesses would be better served by focusing on small wins that they can build on. After all, before you can consistently hit home runs, you need to be able to get the ball out of the infield.

If you can make your supply chain a little bit more efficient, or you can streamline hiring, or you’re able to find a small change that lessens the abandonment rate of online shopping carts, these wins can accumulate into something much bigger.

In the mid-1980s, organizational theorist Karl Weick found that when people take on huge social issues – ending homelessness, eliminating poverty, stopping climate change – the very scope of the challenge often impedes progress. Weick argued that these world changers should focus on more manageable goals.

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More recently, psychologists Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer found that steady, ongoing progress is the key to employee morale. If you feel like you’re making progress, however small, at your job, you’ll be more satisfied. They call this the Progress Principle.

In other words, incremental progress is more important than some grand vision. So, if your goal is a lofty one with no clear roadmap attached to it, like “let’s dominate the server virtualization market,” well, you’re probably not going to.

Rather, you’d be better off targeting one small thing that you know you can do better than your rival. After you accomplish that, you gain confidence, generate good will, and tackle the next thing.

Here are examples from Airbnb, Starbucks, Sonic and Double Dutch of five small wins your company can achieve and then use as building blocks to gain momentum and make those lofty goals more reachable.

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