Theo Epstein’s Pivot: Big Data and Soul

Theo Epstein is leaving the Cubs! The man who took the Cubs from Loveable Losers to breaking the curse of the Billy Goat and earning the Cubs their first World Series Championship in 108 years is walking away. The Cardinal fan in me is rejoicing. Sports Illustrated recently released an article about the details behind his departure. However, as I was reading the article, my inner nerd couldn’t help but notice that Theo Epstein would have been a great market researcher!

https://www.si.com/mlb/2020/11/17/chicago-cubs-theo-epstein-world-series

In a lot of ways, baseball front offices and the market research industry are kindred spirits. Entrenched for years in doing things the same way, they can be slow to adapt. It took baseball front offices years to adopt the pairing of analytics with the eyes and guts of their scouts. Market research departments can also be entrenched in the same methodologies to gather insights.  However, recently, they are both undergoing market changes and have seen an explosion of data analytics.

Billy Beane’s Moneyball, along with bright young minds like Theo Epstein, helped to engrain analytics throughout baseball organizations. Similarly, business organizations have shifted their focus to Big Data to help mine for insights. The importance of this new focus is certainly helping to make organizations smarter. However, is it possible that things can swing towards analytics at the expense of a multitool approach? During his time with the Cubs, Epstein began to realize that analytics were only one part of the equation. He saw that organizations were utilizing analytics to the point where the soul was being sucked out of baseball teams. Anyone that has ever played on a competitive team knows that team comradery and leadership is a key component to the success of a team.  As a result, Epstein pivoted against his competition’s trend (solely chasing analytics) and focused on understanding the psychology of successful players to build a championship caliber team. It was during Game 7 of the 2016 World Series when Epstein would see the culmination of his plan. The Cubs had just surrendered a three-run lead prior to a rain delay taking place. While waiting for the weather to clear, an impromptu players meeting broke out. Veteran Jason Heyward delivered an inspirational speech that was exactly what the team needed to lift their spirits. They would go on to win in the 10th inning, the ultimate validation to Epstein’s approach.

Big Data analytics offers the same potential pitfalls to market research as the overzealous analytics within baseball. Big Data is certainly an important part of an organizational toolbox. However, overly focusing on analysis removes the understanding of consumers as people. The context of how things fit in their lives, their fears, motivations, and unmet needs offer opportunities to holistically understand the individual and provide real insight that can help set strategic direction. Overly relying on one without the other is a swing and a miss for organizations.

Somehow, I think Theo Epstein would agree…

About Quester

Quester® is an award-winning consumer intelligence firm that uses proprietary artificial intelligence technologies to conduct multi-lingual qualitative research on a quantitative scale. We specialize in yielding superior consumer understanding in areas such as innovationconcept developmentbrand positioningsegmentation, and path to purchase. Our online software-based moderator and analytical software probes deep into participant thought processes, analyzes responses, and allows researchers to make wise business decisions grounded in data, and has netted Quester an EXPLOR Award from the TMRE and an Ogilvy Award from The ARF.


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