This is the final installment of a series of reflections inspired by my courses at HBX, an online business school cohort powered by Harvard Business School. With Business Analytics, Economics for Managers, and Financial Accounting, I'm learning the fundamentals of business. Find the whole series here.
As my time with my cohort comes to a close, I wanted to pause and reflect on what I learned, and what I'll take with me moving forward in my career. HBX was incredibly time-consuming but ultimately, very rewarding and insightful.
To make a decision, look at all the factors
When you make a decision, you have to know everything that's at stake. Building a team of people that can help you see beyond what you want to see--your inherent bias--is essential to make an informed decision. Economic and market forces, cultural shifts, the political landscape, and how your product is received all impact the financial statements and the data. You can't look at just one aspect of your business to know whether or not you're successful, but you do have to know what's most important.
Related: Know What's Most Important
This means that judgment can be more important than data collection or quantitative analysis. Though the numbers may tell one side of the story, they can be just as subjective as survey comments or customer sentiment. As a manager and decision-maker, taking a holistic view of all of the possible data points--qualitative and quantitative--and then looking beyond what the data says to get to the "why," will make you more successful.
Be an experimenter
Rather than going with "what feels right," use data to make a decision. Most people know this is the right way to do it, but have trouble in practice. This isn't because they're data illiterate but because failure is psychologically painful. An experimental mindset--where you're tinkering and tweaking--encourages understanding your customer, your audience, and your performance in a well-rounded way.
To do this right, we need to ask questions. Experiment. Get curious. Test. Otherwise you'll never learn anything, and never ship products that really innovate.
Where your business fits in the market matters, because its relationship to other companies matters. As consumers, it's how we figure out what we want; as managers, it's how we know how we're performing. In business, everything is tangled up in so many factors that it's often not clear what's what. After all, you can't find the solution if you don't know the problem.
Making decisions isn't always so easy as "because of this, we should do that." Whether that's price, logo, or investing decisions, the world isn't so linear. With such high stakes, we need to separate what's important from what's not, and what's related with what's not. We can do that by experimenting, asking questions, or collecting data. Knowing that relationships matter, and seeking them, helps us make more holistic business decisions (see above) and maybe even predict the future.
Would I Recommend HBX?
In short, definitely.
As a liberal arts student with very little in the way of business background, I feel more comfortable and familiar with the language of business. In our quarterly earnings presentation, I understood the CFO for the first time. I've been able to take a new look at social media data and performance for the Twitter handle I manage. And ultimately, I have a better understanding of the principles that make up business decisions.