In filmtrail and literature, roads or paths are often symbols of a character’s journey, usually in search of something, maybe enlightenment, love, identity or knowledge.  In business we start with roadmaps to develop a product or implement a strategic objective, keeping a close eye on the critical path along the way.

The 2014 movie “Wild” is a recent example of this theme, an adaptation based on the memoir of Cheryl Strayed who hikes the 1000+ mile Pacific Coast Trail alone, without any significant experience or preparation.  The long journey is an extreme form of coping and cleansing after a series of life-changing catastrophes including the death of her mother, a long battle with substance abuse, and divorce.

What does this have to do with Business Intelligence and Analytics?  Well, the movie is essentially the story of a journey undertaken to answer complex questions and to see things differently.  Take away the danger, the isolation, and the giant backpack, and you can begin to see some parallels to a business analytics initiative.  You could certainly find more, but these jump out without much digging or connecting too many dots:

  1. The trail – the movie’s symbolic “road to self-discovery” is seen alongside the literal, physical Pacific Coast Trail which is prominently featured.  Like the PCT, in business there is a path of best practices and success stories left by those who have come before.  Over the years, we have developed a proven approach which is used by many data guided organizations to remain on the right path.
  2. An element of risk – in the movie, Cheryl takes a huge, maybe ill-advised risk beginning the journey as an unprepared and inexperienced hiker.  Although there is a certain amount of risk to any new initiative, fortunately improving business outcomes is not so perilous.  In fact, there is a bigger risk in not using data to guide business decisions.
  3. Measurable progress – throughout the movie, the audience is kept informed of the progress through written reports and clear milestones. Without this, all the scenery runs together and there is no sense of what has been accomplished.  Sound familiar?  While they may not come with care packages, frequent checkpoints to evaluate progress and visualize results are an essential part of your association’s business analytics initiative.
  4. Emphasis on Discovery – in the movie the physical trail is paralleled by a figurative road to self-discovery. In the end, you have a vague sense that some questions have been resolved and others raised.  The road to data guided decision making also involves discovery throughout – only with clearly defined initial questions and tangible, actionable results.  While it would not make a very interesting movie plot, this type of discovery produces highly valuable business outcomes.

So, did you like the movie?  Whether you found the movie inspirational or shallow and self-indulgent mostly hinges on two types of questions:

  • What is the journey’s purpose? What is she trying to achieve?
  • Is there any real resolution? Is anything of real value gained?

Judging by the mixed reviews of the movie, these are difficult questions.  They don’t have to be for your Association!  Business analytics initiatives have a clear purpose – better informed decisions to improve business outcomes and advance your association’s mission. Data guided decisions powered by interactive and easy to understand visualizations are proven to identify and reduce risks and to drive member engagement, retention, and revenue.