In the beginning there should have been a culture of honest inquiry.\nInstead there was the internal rate of return (IRR) \u2014 a polynomial formula for computing return on investment that only trained accountants could master. IRR defined business value in a single dimension of analysis: cash flows. The gods of accounting looked on it with favor, and so it was, theologically speaking, good.\n[ Learn the secrets of highly successful data analytics teams. | Beware the 12 myths of data analytics and the sure-fire ways organizations fail at data analytics. | Get the latest on data analytics by signing up for CIO newsletters. ]\nThen Dan Bricklin invented the electronic spreadsheet. Like Prometheus bringing fire to we mere mortals, Bricklin and his spreadsheet let all humanity calculate IRRs for ourselves \u2014 and once anyone could compute IRRs for themselves, they did.\nThe problem? Managers quickly figured out how to do more than compute it. They learned to adjust their assumptions \u2014 poking, prodding, and tweaking parameters \u2014 until their IRR generators infallibly arrived at the answer they wanted.\nThe result? Cultures across corporate America in which data lakes, data marts, data warehouses, and analytics software have become little more than platforms for managerial parameter tweaking. They\u2019re used, not for illumination, but as ammunition by those who start with the decision they want and work backward to find the filters and parameters needed to support it. And this is the dirty secret that is sinking your analytics strategy.\nFrom the perspective of organizational dynamics, \u201cculture\u201d is defined as \u201chow we do things around here.\u201d It\u2019s the learned behavior people exhibit in response to their environment, which, in the business world, mostly consists of the behavior of those they work with, and most especially, the behavior of the leaders they deal with every day.\nCulture is a self-reinforcing feedback loop. Changing it, to a culture of honest inquiry or any other cultural characteristic, means re-engineering the loop. It requires patience, persistence, and self-awareness.\nWant your organization\u2019s analytics strategy to really work? You\u2019ll need to evolve from the usual management game-playing to a culture of honest inquiry. Here are some tips and techniques to get you started.\n1. Exhibit the curiosity gene\nIf you don\u2019t want to know What\u2019s Really Going On Out There, nobody who reports to you is likely to care either. Your dashboards, financial reports, and other forms of organizational listening are there to make you smarter and better informed. If that isn\u2019t what you want, don\u2019t bother building them.\n2. Confidence comes from doubt\nCertainty, in contrast, comes from arrogance \u2014 usually, lazy arrogance. If someone is confident and can explain why, wonderful. If their certainty pre-empts everyone else\u2019s ability to make their case, that person is a bump on the pickle of progress. Ignore them.\n3. Start every decision by deciding on the decision process\nYou don\u2019t have to be in charge to encourage this habit. Just ask the question, \u201cHow are we going to make this decision?\u201d\nStart with the decision and you start with an argument \u2014 an interaction in which every participant\u2019s goal is to win, or, failing that, to refuse to lose. Starting with a conversation about how to go about making the decision changes the discussion, to how to create confidence in the outcome. The results: A better decision, a stronger consensus, and a few more employees who see the benefit of honest inquiry.\n4. Don\u2019t create disincentives for honesty\nIf you ask for honest data, and use it to \u201chold people accountable,\u201d you won\u2019t get honest data. Why would you? The superior alternative is to employ people who take responsibility without needing the threat of punishment \u2014 what \u201cholding people accountable\u201d generally means \u2014 to motivate them. This works much better. And as a pleasant fringe benefit, it calls for less effort on your part.\n5. The \u2018view from 50,000 feet\u2019 is for illustration, not persuasion\nA high-level strategic view is essential for focusing the efforts of the organization. \u201cHigh-level logic,\u201d in contrast, is oxymoronic. Detailed evidence and analysis is what determines whether the high-level view makes sense, or just looks good in the PowerPoint.\n6. Beware of anecdotes and metaphors\nThey\u2019re also useful for illustration, and also shouldn\u2019t be used for persuasion.\nMetaphors are an outstanding tool for explaining your point of view; anecdotes can be handy if you need to demonstrate that something is possible. For anything else you need statistically valid evidence.\nYes, Disraeli said there are three types of lie. He miscounted. Argument by anecdote is far more pernicious than argument by statistics, and argument by metaphor is even worse. And yes, you do have to understand statistics well enough to evaluate the evidence. That\u2019s part of your toolkit.\n7. Evidence too far removed from the original source is suspect\nDon\u2019t trust summaries of summaries of summaries, especially if they tell you what you want to hear. Even with the best of intentions the game of telephone is in play.\n8. Don\u2019t trust your gut\nBy all means listen to it. Your \u201cgut\u201d is the voice of your experience which isn\u2019t something to ignore. But don\u2019t trust it, because your experience is both too biased and too small to constitute a decent statistical sample.\n9. Build your culture of honest inquiry one decision at a time\nPreaching and lecturing don\u2019t work, and they work even worse when the proselytizers don\u2019t practice what they preach. So just remember: the best way to build a culture of honest inquiry is one decision at a time.\nAnd for all forms of culture change, the most important tool at your disposal is a mirror. Look in it whenever How We Do Things Around Here looks like it\u2019s headed in the wrong direction. Ask yourself what you might be doing to pollute the feedback loop.\nEven more important, figure out how to keep yourself from making the same mistake again. We all make mistakes. Make the same mistake over and over again, though and it isn\u2019t a mistake anymore.\nIt\u2019s a bad habit, one nobody sells a patch or new platform to help you break.