Every day we generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. This information has led to some tremendous breakthroughs with the potential to improve thousands of lives. As leaders, we also have mountains of data available to us—honestly, more than we can assimilate or make sense of. Yet huge decisions are made every day based solely on the numbers.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love numbers! But, in my years working with many leaders, I’ve seen too many of them make unwarranted or uninformed decisions because they have over-relied on data. Soft intelligence is also critical. More importantly, one without the other is a recipe for mistakes.

If you want a compelling example, just watch the TED talk called “The Human Insights Missing from Hard Data,” presented by former Nokia employee Tricia Wang. Her dramatic story clearly profiles the dangers of undervaluing soft intelligence and the high costs companies can incur as a result.

The truth is, the best modern leaders embrace Whole Data—a more comprehensive view of the facts that stretch beyond the usual quantitative boundaries to incorporate intangible elements as they plan for next steps.

They pay attention to stories and narratives, emotions and attitudes, worries and complaints, risks and vulnerabilities. They dig down to find the motivations behind customer decisions, and they identify how policies, processes, and products all impact the lives of the people beyond the statistics. They search for the qualitative information that paints a more vivid picture.

These leaders take a new approach. They demonstrate the wisdom of integrating hard data and soft intelligence to make better decisions. They ask the tough questions:

  • Am I confident that this data reveals the entire story?
  • What might be missing?
  • Does this view of the data include the human factor?
  • Is this data merely a reflection of the preferences, assumptions and experiences of those who aggregated it?

The answers to those questions may change the decisions they make and the results they deliver in unexpected, positive ways. So here’s my challenge. Study the data. Parse it every way you can, looking for trends and patterns. Then take the time to balance the measurable with the unmeasurable. Ask your employees, customers, or strategic partners what they are seeing and experiencing. You might be surprised by what you learn.

To learn more about how modern leaders are breaking free from conventional “chains”, I invite you to read my new book, Leadership Unchained:  Defy Conventional Wisdom for Breakthrough Performance, available now on Amazon.  Or wait for my new @LinkedIn Learning course scheduled to release in September.