When was the last time you spoke with a four year old? Did you notice how many times they asked the question ‘why’? They might begin the conversation by asking a very simple open ended question, but once you give you answer, they go further and further and further with their ‘why’ questioning which can be rather irritating. Having said that, they can often leave us fully grown adults questioning the most unconscious acts.
This insight sits at the bottom of some of the most effective coaching methods used to enable break-through performance. Two of the most famous coaching books promote a similar method. Both John Whitmore’s Coaching for Performance (1992) and Timothy Gallwey’s earlier book The Inner Game of Tennis (1974), introduced the idea that a deeper understanding and clarity of what to do is the key to unlocking potential. The methodology they used to achieve this was the asking of simple non-directive questions that get people to reflect on the how, what and why of ‘the present’.
Both Gallwey and Whitmore recognized that asking ‘why’ as an adult was likely in most circumstances to generate a defensive reaction so encouraged coaches to use that approach sparingly, but, like the 4 years old they start with a broad or shallow question and continue to interrogate the answers, they help people to begin to find the source of the problem/issue and in understanding it more deeply to beginning to formulate options that will enable them to move forward. The approach however doesn’t force the pace to action, it ensures that the context is as fully explored as possible such that any action is considered from a position of a really deep understanding.
In e-commerce building the deep understanding is what we call insight; developing the options is how we create a powerful test and learn programme that will test all the potential solutions and taking action is the running of the programme against pre-defined success criteria.
Approach this another way, consider a scuba diving mission.
The scuba diver will never go straight into the centre of the pacific looking for a sunken treasure chest with no preparation. They will first do their research on the ground, understand where to look and define what they’re looking for. They will then practice in a swimming pool to gain understanding of their diving equipment. They will then quite literally ‘test the water’ in the sea and stay shallow for a while, taking into account the waves, any marine life and the weather of that day. If they’re happy with the conditions, they will start to go deeper. They may then come back to surface, regroup on what they’ve seen and either go deeper in that area, or pivot the investigation and look elsewhere.
A data deep-dive takes the exact same approach.
Let’s say you wanted to look at your web traffic because your sales have been low this week. You wouldn’t simply go straight in and look at the organic search volume for a specific date this month with no other context behind you. You would start by looking at total sales and how the traffic volume across the past few months has affected the total sales to understand if there is a correlation between the two. You would then look to see how that has changed in any given week or day in the week where your sales have dropped. You might then consider which devices have seen traffic variances that reflect a reduction in performance and from there, which acquisition channels may have caused some drops in traffic. Finally, you would start to join the dots and consider the device/channel interplay and how the traffic on certain days of the week affect your total weekly sales, to help you understand what the issue was this week, compared to previous weeks.
The point is, you cannot get your answers to data inconsistencies by diving in at the deep end. You have to begin shallow and develop your macro understanding of the situation, so that when you see a micro inconsistency, you are in a balanced position to understand where the blip has occurred.
You must start at the top and consistently ask ‘why’ to get to the bottom, it’s as simple as that.