When I talk about Cognitive Design in analytics, I often get puzzled looks from people. Sometimes they think it’s redundant to talk about “cognitive analytics.” The question I hear most is, “Isn’t the basic premise of analytics to better ‘understand’ what’s going on in your company? And, if so, isn’t analytics ‘cognitive’ already.” Yes. Of course it is. However, that software—powerful as it may be—won’t help you very much without using your most valuable asset—your people—to make sense of it. Without people to interpret the results, that software is just 1’s and 0’s.

Cognitive is defined as, “concerned with the act or process of knowing, perceiving, etc.”[1] Cognitive Design recognizes that the bones of intelligent decision-making are already in your organization—resident in what you know and what you perceive—at an organizational level. Using Cognitive Design principles, you can leverage the experience, gut instincts, and inside industry knowledge of your people to help you go outside the box, to think big, and believe that there’s nothing that is unknowable.

To go outside that box, it’s essential to build a team composed of the best people you can get from within your organization. Scour the company and find those people who have a combination of leadership, technical, and people skills that will enable you to understand what information you need to innovate and build your innovative solution.

First, go after the true Leaders in your organization and attract them to your team. Leaders aren’t necessarily those with titles. They’re those people who engender confidence and trust in others. They seem to shout, “Follow me!” They lead by example and people follow them because, instinctively, they know those Leaders will get the job done—the right way.

Next, get the Influencers on board. Influencers are those who have the social or emotional intelligence to influence decision making, or decision-makers and can rally people to support the project. They’re different from Leaders in that they aren’t in the front of the pack; instead, they just seem to understand what motivates people, and they use that knowledge to get people to join the cause. They’re invaluable ambassadors for the project.

The next critical team members are the Big Thinkers. Big Thinkers are those who can generate big ideas. They’re the 50,000-foot people who see what others don’t and can explain how to turn those ideas into concrete plans. Big Thinkers bring excitement and energy to the project. They inspire others to dream, and to believe that those dreams can become reality.

Any good team also needs Builders. Builders help turn the big ideas of Big Thinkers into real, functioning systems. Builders are the analysts who possess the technical and organizational knowledge to use techniques such as persona creation, journey mapping, and user experience design to paint an accurate picture of the system requirements and build the framework of an intuitive user interface. Their contribution is foundational to the success of the project. Without the right requirements a seamless user interface and experience, the system will founder before it even gets implemented.

Finally, the team needs Diplomats. Diplomats are not Leaders, per se, and they’re not Influencers either. They’re problem solvers; they have the technical knowledge to understand the project, but they also have the people skills to move the project forward when politics get in the way. For example, diplomats can help smooth over disagreements between business functions as to whose problems have primacy in building the system. They can also bring leaders from the various business functions together to find unique solutions to problems that are seemingly intractable. In short, they unruffle feathers and grease the wheels of the process. They are truly vital to the project’s success.

Now that we’ve discussed the components of the Cognitive Design analytics team and how each is critical to the project’s success, in upcoming blogs, I’ll discuss to how the team can use their skills to draw out the knowledge resident in the organization and build truly innovative solutions.

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[1] Definition from Dictionary.com. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/cognitive. Retrieved 9/17/17.

General manager of Teradata Consulting and Go-To-Market Analytic Solutions. Thought leader in analytics, business intelligence, big data, and business transformation. My passion is helping my clients drive value through data and achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.

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