HBR: Liberal Arts in the Data Age

Excerpt from JM Olejarz's review of "The Fuzzie and the Techie" by Scott Hartley, "Cents and Sensibilities" by Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro and "Sensemaking" by Christian Madsbjerg. Full review can be read online here at HBR.org

Sensemaking, by strategy consultant Christian Madsbjerg, picks up the thread from Morson and Schapiro and carries it back to Hartley. Madsbjerg argues that unless companies take pains to understand the human beings represented in their data sets, they risk losing touch with the markets they’re serving. He says the deep cultural knowledge businesses need comes not from numbers-driven market research but from a humanities-driven study of texts, languages, and people.

Madsbjerg cites Lincoln, Ford’s luxury brand, which just a few years ago lagged so far behind BMW and Mercedes that the company nearly killed it off. Executives knew that becoming competitive again would mean selling more cars outside the United States, especially in China, the next big luxury market. So they began to carefully examine how customers around the world experience, not just drive, cars. Over the course of a year, Lincoln representatives talked to customers about their daily lives and what “luxury” meant to them. They discovered that in many countries transportation isn’t drivers’ top priority: Cars are instead seen as social spaces or places to entertain business clients. Though well engineered, Lincolns needed to be reconceived to address the customers’ human context. Subsequent design efforts have paid off: In 2016 sales in China tripled.


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